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Book Notes Chapter 4: The Photograph Album Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Chapter 4: The Photograph Album

Oskar says that he has a treasure, which he has guarded throughout his life: his family photograph album. One of the tortures of Hell, Oskar says, will be to shut up a naked soul in a room with the framed photographs of his day.

Oskar relates his days with Klepp, just before his internment in the institution. The two would often go to the movies - for Klepp, they went to Westerns, and for Oskar they went to movies about doctors and nurses. After each show they would go to a photo studio and have passport photos taken. Having waited for the photos, they would go to a nearby bar, order beer, blood sausage, onions, and rye bread, and spread the photos over the table. They would compare the current photos with previous ones, then they would cut up the photos and rearrange the body parts on each picture, putting their noses on their ears, etc. Then they would give one of the altered photos away to the waiter, who always took one. Oskar never gave his pictures away to women, but one day Klepp, unbeknownst to Oscar, gave one away to the redheaded girl with the cigarette tray. Eventually he married her, as Oskar says, because he wanted his picture back.

Oskar then talks of the photographs, beginning with Joseph Koljaiczek on the first page. He has been photographed in his Joseph Wranka persona - not as the arsonist, but as the volunteer fireman, complete with uniform, helmet, and rescue medal. Just as with Gregor Koljaiczek and Alfred Matzerath's photos, Oskar says Joseph has a proud though tragic gaze, common from the sorrowful years of the German Empire. Vincent Bronski's photos have a mystical tone. Those of the sickly Jan Bronski have an air of self-conscious melancholy. The women of those generations, he says, were less expert at evoking their personalities through photographs. There is a photo of twenty-three nurses, Oskar's mother Agnes among them, clustered around an army doctor. Alfred Matzerath is in the photo, wearing a starched chef's hat and brandishing a ladle. After WWI, Oskar says, the trend is reversed; the men now seem nondescript, while the women more expressively sorrowful, as in a photo of Agnes at age twenty-three. The picture of Alfred and Agnes' wedding shows the family trying hard to mask their rural provincial roots with nice clothes - all except for Anna and Vincent, who Oskar says never succeeded.

Then Oskar is compelled to take up his drum and conjure up a photo of Agnes, Jan, and Alfred sitting together in the Bronski flat. The three are arranged in a triangle, Agnes seated, and Jan and Alfred standing. Oskar says he tried for a long time to deduce the photo's meaning geometrically. He took a ruler, a triangle, and a compass and drew triangles and arcs all over the photo, in order, he says, to get a point of view. All he has done, he says, is to dig a number of holes into the picture with his compass. In the end, he says, it is the most meaningful picture of the three major players in his early years because it makes "the ultimate solution so clearly discernible;" it shows a serenity not visible in their other snapshots, each of which carry some plainly evident emotion. A second triangle picture of the same three shows them playing skat, a three handed card game, which, Oskar says, "was their refuge, their haven, to which they always retreated when life threatened to beguile them into playing, in one combination or another, such silly two-handed games as backgammon or sixty-six." Chapter 4, pg. 57.

Oskar moves on to his mother's friend, Gretchen Scheffler, who spent most of her time knitting. Her husband, the baker Alexander Scheffler and she would often take trips on the German "Strength through Joy" ships (a Nazi organization regulating all recreational activity).

Oskar mentions a photo of Albrecht Greff (Greff), the greengrocer and boy scout leader, with a boy of thirteen, one of his scouts. He was married to Lina Greff, through whom Oskar eventually gets to know the grocer.

Oskar describes a baby picture of himself. It was taken in a professional studio; he is sitting on a white rug made of polar bear fur. He focuses on his hands, which are clenched into fists, and the look of "earnest concentration" on his face. His hands are ready to strike, he says - to strike the drum, which has not been given to him, for he is not yet three. He moves on to a picture taken on his third birthday, in which he has his drum. He is holding his drumsticks crossed over the drum's serrated red and white fields, his blue eyes reflecting determination. He relates his decision at that moment to remain that three-year-old forever:

"I remained the three-year-old, the gnome, the Tom Thumb, the pigmy, the Lilliputian, the midget, whom no one could persuade to grow. I did so in order to be exempted from the big and little catechism and in order not, once grown to five-foot-eight adulthood, to be driven by this man [Matzerath] who face to face with his shaving mirror called himself my father, into a business, the grocery business, which as Matzerath saw it would, when Oskar turned twenty-one, become his grownup world. To avoid playing the cash register I clung to my drum and from my third birthday on refused to grow by so much as a finger's breadth. I remained the precocious three-year-old, towered over by grownups but superior to all grownups, who refused to measure his shadow with theirs, who was complete both inside and outside, while they, to the very brink of the grave, were condemned to worry their heads about 'development,' who had only to confirm what they were compelled to gain by hard and often painful experience, and who had no need to change his shoe and trouser size year after year just to prove that something was growing." Chapter 4, pg. 60-61

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Oskar admits in the same breath, however, that something did grow, to "Messianic proportions," though not always to his best advantage.

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