Re: Book 2, The Polish Post Office
I keep asking my self, “who/what is Oskar Matzerath? I have written down many words that may describe him, words such as, memories, conscience, witness, innocence, and survivor. Oskar could very well be all these things, and he could be all these things in regard to the narrator or on a larger scale, which would be the residents of Danzig. But after reading this chapter the term that I now believe may describe Oskar the best is copping mechanism. This can be seen in the chapter “Scrap Metal” when the narrator writes about taking refuge under his grandmother’s skirts on page 215:
This sound to me like a sentence written by someone scared to death and wants protection. Oskar and narrator are separate, but they are still connected in some fashion. A huge separation between Oskar and narrator comes in this sentence, page 215:
The narrator can see Oskar, not IS Oskar, but can SEE him, almost like some kind of imaginary friend. This sentence is very unique. It is the first time when Grass truly separates these two entities.
I see this chapter as a hinge to the novel, it connects what happened previously to the events yet to occur, and without a doubt answers for me at least, what/who Oskar Matzerath is, and what his drum means to him. Receiving that first tin drum at the age of three may be Oskar’s first memory. The drum is familiar, comforting and presents Oskar with some normalcy in his life, and during troubled times it is not surprising that a child would cling to a comforting object. The drum is with him at all times, and as Oskar grows, and becomes a witness to tragedy the drum absorbs the memories.
Oskar, at the age of 15 witnesses the horrific events that take place in that post office. He is a child. The hinge of this chapter squeaks when Oskar tells the reader of a game of skat played while one of the participants of this game is mortally injured. Oskar tells the reader that this dying man was propped up, and strapped to a mail hamper, was given cards and was forced to play a game. How absurd is this? It is not absurd, it is Oskar’s way of dealing with the nightmare that is unfolding around him. It is also not beyond understanding that Oskar would choose to use another happy and familiar memory such as the game of skat to shield himself from the atrocities he is witnessing.
Oskar, for the first time and last time, speaks to Jan and calls him father. Jan, along with 29 other men was executed for defending the Polish post office. I do believe that the narrator uses Oskar to desensitize himself to these traumatic events. The drum, recalls memories that the narrator may have suppressed. I can only imagine there were many Oskars walking around Danzig during this time, there may be Oskars walking around all over the place.
What I cannot understand after reading this chapter, is how anyone can say they have no sympathy for Oskar, and view him as someone to be despised. I see this as heartless. The reader must place themselves directly into the events that are happening, and try to see these events through the eyes of a child. These events are difficult enough as an adult, imagine how they would affect someone so young.