Book Notes

Chapter 7: Rasputin and the Alphabet Notes from The Tin Drum

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The Tin Drum Chapter 7: Rasputin and the Alphabet

Oskar tells Bruno and Klepp in the background of that school picture the words "My first School day" on a blackboard in Sütterlin script.

Oskar's parents had decided that their attempt to put Oskar in school had been sufficient; they no longer worried about his education. Oskar mentions Meyn the Trumpeter, a tenant of Oskar's apartment complex who spent his time in the attic drinking gin and playing his trumpet, who recognized Oskar as his drum accompanist. Their duet drove Meyn's four cats out onto the roof. Oskar asked Meyn to teach him to read, but Meyn knew only three things: gin, the trumpet, and sleep.

Oskar tried to get Greff the greengrocer to teach him. He went to the store without his drum, for Greff didn't appreciate it, choosing him because Greff had books everywhere, though they were mostly magazines featuring half-naked youths exercising with well-oiled muscles. Greff was having trouble at the time - he had been accused of fraud when the Bureau of Weights and measures had inspected his store. Oskar entered the store and picked up three or four white pieces of cardboard and a red pencil, and tried to get Greff's attention by practicing his Sütterlin script. But Oskar was not the right type of little boy; it was clear that Greff didn't understand him.

Topic Tracking: Red & White 5

Oskar tried Lina Greff as a teacher, but she spent weeks on end in bed and smelled of decaying nightgown. As a test to guard against envying the schoolchildren who had learned to read, Oskar smelled the sponges that children used as blackboard erasers and hung off their school bags. He compared the smell to that of Satan's armpits.

Finally, although she was far from perfect, Oskar turned to Gretchen Scheffler as a teacher. She was childless and Oskar blamed that fact on the sickening sweetness of her apartment decoration. Oskar never used his glass-breaking voice on her china, and pretended to love the teddy bears and crocheting in order to get Gretchen to teach him to read. His plan worked, and after a few visits Gretchen produced the few books she had: from her dead seaman brother, seven or eight volumes of Köhler's Naval Calendar, The Service Ranks of he Imperial Navy, Paul Benke, The Naval Hero, Keyser's History of the City of Danzig and A Struggle for Rome, and from Gretchen's collection Gustav Fretag's Debit and Credit, Goethe's Elective Affinities, and a book called Rasputin and Women. After a long hesitation, Oskar chose to study Rasputin and Goethe.

Topic Tracking: Individuality/Identity 5

In this choice Oskar chose what he terms a "conflicting harmony" that "was to shape or influence my whole life." Oskar tried hard to balance his childish learning to read with the fact that he was already as intellectually complex as an adult; in the same vein, he wet his bed on purpose every morning, so as to seem to be a childish bed-wetter to the grownups. When Gretchen would try to make him read fairy tales, Oskar would cry out like a child for Rasputin. Gretchen was convinced that Oskar could not understand or learn - what Oskar did was to tear the pages out of the two books, crumple them, and hide them under his sweater. Then he would smooth them out at home and read them in peace. He would take the two sets of pages, shuffle them like cards, create a whole new book of Rasputin and Goethe together, and store it in the attic.

Oskar says he ate too much of Gretchen's cake in those days. He became very fat, and would often vomit up the expensive cakes once he got home. He paid for his lessons by becoming a dressmaker's dummy, as Gretchen would spend her free time making clothes for the baby she never had.

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