Book Notes

Notes on Objects & Places from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Objects/Places

Knotted string art: Bruno Münsterberg, Oskar's keeper in the mental institution, makes pieces of old string (which he finds after visiting hours in his patients' rooms) into elaborate pieces of knotted art. He dips the string in plaster to harden and places the sculptures on pedestals fashioned out of old knitting needles.

Kashubia: A rural region in the north of Poland, west of the city of Danzig (Gdansk). This is the region that Oskar's maternal grandmother, Anna Bronski, is from.

Four potato-colored skirts: The clothes that Anna Bronski, Oskar's maternal grandmother wears (simultaneously) each day, in accordance with a strict schedule: the skirt that was closest to her body one day is placed on the outermost layer the next, so that the skirts rotate in succession. She has a fifth skirt as well, just like the other four, which she rotates into the succession on washing days.

The tin drum: One of the centerpieces of the novel: Oskar is constantly in possession of a red and white lacquered toy tin drum, on which he constantly plays, and needs to play, in order to proceed successfully in life and to remember the past. He goes through cycles of drumming and not drumming throughout the novel, and it is a source of constant tension. He is forever destroying and getting new drums on which to play.

Danzig: The setting for the majority of the novel, Danzig (now Gdansk) is a major northern port town in Poland. Danzig was a free and independent city until September 1, 1939, when it became the first region taken by Germany at the outset of WWII. After the war, Danzig became a part of Poland again.

skat: A three-handed card game that Jan Bronski, Agnes Matzerath, and Alfred Matzerath play continuously throughout the novel. From time to time, their friends play with them as well.

glass-breaking scream: Since age three (when he was given his first tin drum), Oskar was endowed with the ability to scream with such a high pitch that he could shatter any piece of glass. He could control it, as well - at one point he can break windows on the other side of the city, and he can etch writing into glass. Once he begins growing at the end of the novel, he loses this ability.

nurses: Oskar has a lifelong fascination with nurses, starts when he is five. Every time he is in the hospital, he laments having to leave on account of the nurses. The woman he is wrongly accused of killing, sister Dorothea, is a nurse.

Sütterlin script: A style of handwriting referred to often in the novel; it was the standard German script taught in schools from 1915-1945.

Rasputin: A Siberian Peasant and faith healer who gained favor in the Court of czar Nicholas II of Russia before the Russian revolt of 1917 by allegedly healing Nicholas' hemophiliac son. He was renowned for his sexual exploits, and assassinated by a group of aristocrats in 1916.

Goethe: Known as one of the centers of both German and world literature, Goethe spearheaded the German Romantic movement in the late 18th century. His plays and poems are known for their understanding of the human condition and human individuality. His greatest work is considered to be the dramatic poem Faust.

rostrum: The impromptu stages that were set up by the Nazis to hold rallies. They were marked by their symmetrical rows of Nazi flags, uniformed SS men, and party comrades.

Baby Jesus sculpture: The sculpture, of the Virgin Mary seated with the baby Jesus and John the Baptist on her lap, is in the church of the Sacred Heart. It is a key image of focus for Oskar - he spends time trying to get this baby Jesus to drum, and as the leader of the Dusters, he sneaks into the church to cut the sculpture into pieces and steal it.

Saspe cemetery: A cemetery on the outskirts of Danzig; it is the place where Jan Bronski is executed and buried by the Nazis.

severed horse's head: At the beach on Good Friday, Oskar, Jan, Agnes, and Alfred see an old man fishing for green eels with a black severed horse's head tied to a clothesline. The memory of this scene eventually kills Agnes.

coffin: Oskar spends a lot of time admiring and describing coffins, saying that his mother's coffin was a proper one because it suited the human body so well. It was black and 'tapered at the foot end.'

Herbert Truczinski's Back: On the scars on Herbert's back, Oskar sees (like images in clouds) the same promise he finds in his drum. The reproductive organs of women he has known, the ring finger of the murdered Sister Dorothea, and his own umbilical cord are all visible to Oskar.

Niobe: The cursed figurehead that Herbert Truczinski was put in charge of guarding at the Maritime Museum in Danzig. The sculpture is responsible for his death.

card house: Jan builds a house of cards during the battle for the post office, which is knocked down by the Germans. Oskar says card houses are 'the only dwellings worthy of humankind.' (Chapter 20, Pg. 247)

empty cartridge case: Leo Schugger gives Oskar the empty cartridge case used to execute Jan Bronski, then leads him to Saspe, the cemetery where Jan was shot and buried.

fizz powder: Before the war, this was what the lower classes substituted for soda - flavored powder that fizzed when mixed with water. Oskar and Maria have a long history with fizz powder - Oskar would spit in Maria's hand, which was full of powder, and she would drink it.

lovebird: On the way to Matzerath's funeral, a soldier gives Maria a cage with a lovebird inside; Kurt tries to pull out its feathers, then throws rocks at it in the cemetery and hits it.

The Lion's Den: A dance hall in Düsseldorf that Oskar visits several times; it is a place for young people, built in a bombed out building.

The Onion Cellar: A nightclub in Düsseldorf where Oskar's jazz trio plays. In the club the owner, Schmuh, serves raw onions, which make the guests cry.

swarm of sparrows: Schmuh, the nightclub owner, liked to hunt sparrows, but as a rule he would only shoot twelve in a day, then give the remaining birds food. One day he killed thirteen; in the car on the way home, a swarm of sparrows attacked the car and forced an accident, killing Schmuh.

Lux: A rottweiler that Oskar rents to take walks with - Lux is the one that first finds Sister Dorothea's ring finger.

ring finger: Lux, Oskar's rented dog, brings Oskar a ring finger that turns out to belong to Sister Dorothea - it is this finger that responsible for Oskar's internment in the institution.

streetcars: In every city in which Oskar finds himself, the streetcar is his chosen means of transportation. In Danzig, the streetcar would take him not only through the city, but past Saspe cemetery on the way to the shore.

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