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Chapter 15: Niobe Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Chapter 15: Niobe

Herbert was reduced to mulling over his troubles; Oskar got him to go into a partnership with him. Oskar would sing out the windows of a store and Herbert would do the salvaging of the loot. They robbed two delis and a furrier. They were forced to give it up, however, because disposing of the goods involved revisiting the black market of the waterfront, which Herbert had no intention of doing. After another bout of mulling, Herbert got out his suit and went looking for a job - he became a guard at the Maritime Museum.

The pride of the museum's collection was a figurehead from a Florentine galleon, captured by Pirates from Danzig in 1473. The green figurehead was a carving of a naked woman; the carving was known as Niobe or "the green kitten". The model for the sculpture had been put on trial for witchcraft after its completion and the sculptor's hands were cut off as a result. Over the centuries, every one of the sculpture's owners befell some grand misfortune; Danzig's citizens blamed much of their misfortune on its presence. While no museum attendant would guard the sculpture, and visitors would not enter the room, Herbert Truczinski volunteered his services.

Reluctantly, he let Oskar accompany him to the museum. On the third day, on the pretext of cleaning, the two entered the sculpture's room and they studied her proportions; Herbert thought there was too much of her, preferring little dainty women. Oskar drummed on her breasts, and Herbert drove a nail into her knee; she didn't react. Oskar, at the time, was convinced of Niobe's indifference toward him and Herbert. He says:

"Today I know that everything watches, that nothing goes unseen, that even wallpaper has a better memory than ours. It isn't God in his Heaven that sees at all. A kitchen chair, a coat-hanger, a half-filled ash tray, or the wooden replica of a woman named Niobe, can perfectly well serve as an unforgetting witness to every one of our acts." Chapter 15, pg. 192-193

After two weeks the ticket seller at the museum refused to let Oskar in with Herbert because Oskar was irresponsible. In the end he was let in one last time, but both he and Herbert were disinclined toward games - Niobe caught the afternoon light in her amber eyes and seemed to be plotting.

The next day Herbert guarded Niobe alone and Oskar sat outside the museum on a banister. Oskar drummed in protest, then ate lunch outside with Herbert, then watched him drink gin in a local bar.

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Suddenly an ambulance showed up at the museum - Oskar slipped inside along with them and went to Niobe's room. Herbert was hanging from Niobe's front, his face covering hers. He was naked to the waist, showing off his scars. He had taken a safety ax and plunged it into the statue; in the process he had driven the other end into himself. His trousers were open and his penis was still erect. Oskar says that in order to draw upon this scene, he is obliged to bang on his drum with all of his might, not with his drumsticks but with his fists.

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