Book Notes

Chapter 31: The Ant Trail Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Chapter 31: The Ant Trail

Oskar begins with the image of a picturesque swimming pool, graced by many young, slender people. A young man climbs the ten-foot diving board and everyone watches, his friends goading him to dive. This, Oskar says, is the situation he and the Dusters were in at their trial. All of the boys dove from the board. That left Oskar alone, who stood up on the board and said he could see the whole world from up there. He celebrated the simultaneity of the world, weaving the fabric of history. Even when Lucy pleaded, Oskar did not jump, but turned and made his way down the ladder rung by rung. As Oskar left the courthouse, a man approached Matzerath and asked him to consider putting Oskar in an institution, because he was gullible and so easily taken in by disreputable elements. For ten days, Matzerath considered the offer, then on the eleventh day, signed the release, but the city was under artillery fire then, and the mail had stopped.

Over half the flats in the apartment building were empty, as the tenants had already fled. Matzerath, however, had been stockpiling food, unbeknownst to the authorities, in the cellar of the store; the remaining members of the building took to the cellar during the air raids. Old Man Heilandt and Matzerath carried Mother Truczinski down during the early raids, then later they left her sitting at her window. After one big raid, Matzerath and Maria found her dead with her jaw open, squinting like she had a gnat in her eye. Old Man Heilandt made a coffin for Mother Truczinski out of her bedroom door. Oskar made him make it properly - tapered at the foot end. She was cleaned and put in the box, but her legs had stiffened in a sitting position; Old Man Heilandt had to break her legs to get her in the coffin. They were obliged to bury her in the park; the cemetery was closed to all but the military. Oskar slipped away and took a walk. Dangling from the trees in the road were hanged soldiers who all looked like Störtebaker. Oskar hoped they had gotten Lucy Rennwand too, but he could not find her body. Back at the burial site, the ground was frozen and Matzerath and Heilandt had to dig away the dirt with a pickax.

From then on, Oskar's family lived in their basement, for the Russians were coming swiftly, burning and pillaging in their path. Oskar emerged only to retrieve his belongings from the attic - extra drums from Bebra, his Goethe-Rasputin book, and the fan that had belonged to Roswitha. Seeing the fire, Matzerath for the first time doubted the triumphant final victory of his Nazi Party. Lina Greff, the widow, convinced Matzerath to remove his Nazi Party pin, which he did, but could not decide what to do with it - anywhere he put it, the Russians would find it. He tried to stamp on it, but Kurt and Oskar pounced on it, Oskar refusing to let it go on account of Kurt's potential safety. Just then, they heard the screams from the neighboring families, and knew the Russians had arrived.

Six or seven Russians opened the hatch to the cellar; Oskar focused on a trail of ants on the cellar floor running from the potatoes to the sugar. He was reassured that the ants did not respond to all the sudden screaming. Three of the soldiers went instantly to Lina Greff, and raped her in turn. Maria was spared, for she had Kurt on her lap, and as Oskar had read in Rasputin, the Russians loved children. A soldier picked Oskar up and played the drum with his fingers, then handed him off when the first soldier went to take his turn with Lina Greff. There were lice on the soldier's collar, and Oskar wanted to catch one, but it meant dropping Matzerath's Party pin. He held it out to Matzerath, who unknowingly grasped it. Fear gripped Matzerath; he put the pin in his mouth. The soldiers saw the move and pointed their guns at Matzerath, who tried to swallow the pin. It stuck in his throat; Matzerath began to choke and flail. One of the soldiers emptied a whole magazine into Matzerath before he could die of suffocation. The ants had to build a new trail around Matzerath's body; the soldiers took artificial honey with them as they left.

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