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Book 1, Chapter 1: The Wide Skirt Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Book 1, Chapter 1: The Wide Skirt

The novel opens with Oskar Matzerath writing from inside a mental institution. He is being watched through a peephole in his door by his keeper, Bruno Münsterberg, whom Oskar says is an artist. Bruno spends his time scrounging for bits of string in his patients' rooms, which he ties into elaborate works of knotted string art, dips in plaster to harden, and mounts on pedestals fashioned from knitting needles. He thinks of coloring his artwork, but Oskar advises against it, preferring the white enamel of his hospital bed. Oskar maintains that his bed is the most perfect of all beds, that if he had his way he would only build its bars up higher to keep the world away. Telling of visiting days in the hospital, he says:

"This is the time for the people who want to save me, whom it amuses to love me, who try to esteem and respect themselves, to get to know themselves, through me. How blind, how nervous and ill-bred they are! They scratch the white enamel of my bedstead with their fingernail scissors, they scribble obscene little men on it with their ballpoint pens and blue pencils." Chapter 1, pg. 16

Oskar has convinced Bruno to buy him a ream of blank white paper (Oskar terms it "virgin" paper) so that he can write out his autobiography. He must ask Bruno to do this because he knows that none of the people who come to visit him on a regular basis would do it - it would be, as Oskar says, too "dangerous" to make such a thing available to him. But Bruno gets him the paper he needs and Oskar begins to write.

Oskar begins with his grandmother, Anna Bronski. She is sitting, in the year 1899, at the edge of a potato field in Kashubia. Sitting by a fire that she has built and uses to cook potatoes for her dinner, she is wearing the four potato-colored skirts that she wears constantly throughout the novel. She rotates the skirts in succession each day, moving the skirt that was closest to her body on the current day to the outside layer the next day. The skirts are large and billowing, and Anna must constantly gather them around her body in defense against the strong wind.

Anna sees three men zigzagging and jumping their way down the road by the potato field. Two of them, described only as "Long and Thin" and wearing the uniforms of the rural constabulary, are chasing after a man described only as "Short and Wide." Desperate, Anna lets "Short and Wide" slip under her four billowing skirts to hide from the two uniformed policemen. Anna goes right on trying to spear the hot, ash-covered potatoes from her fire. The two uniformed men stop at the edge of the potato field and ask Anna the whereabouts of the third man; she points them down the road. The two men remain for half an hour, suspicious, overturning and poking their bayonets into Anna's baskets of potatoes. They put the raw potatoes back in Anna's baskets and leave as the sun sets and it begins to rain, coughing and weeping in the direction Anna pointed them.

Topic Tracking: Individuality/Identity 1

Once the men are far away, Anna rises and lets "Short and Wide" out from under her skirt. His name is Joseph Koljaiczek; he buttons his pants quickly as Anna lets him out. Anna gives Koljaiczek four cooked potatoes and keeps one for herself. He follows Anna as she picks up her basket of raw potatoes and heads for Goldkrug in the black forest.

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