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Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt 
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Post Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass

Book one; chapter one
The Wide Skirt



Tue Aug 17, 2010 5:23 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
Hello and welcome Oskar Matzerath, our narrator for the story of “The Tin Drum”. In this chapter Oskar reveals that he is writing his own story behind the bars of a mental institution.

The first paragraph of this novel pulls the reader into the story, and into the life of Oskar, when he writes:

” I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.”

In this very first sentence, Oskar boldly makes the statement that he is special, that he is hard to get to know, and even harder to understand.

This chapter is called, “The Wide Skirt” and within this chapter one of the many fabulous images in the novel appears as he tells us the story of his grandmother.



Tue Aug 17, 2010 5:45 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
Our narrator is going to write a novel--not an autobiography--he tells us in the first few pages. Not only will he write a novel but he will let us watch him decide what kind of novel. And Grass makes a statement about story-telling right up front:

"You can start a story in the middle, then strike out boldly backward and forward to create confusion. You can be modern, delete all reference to time and distance, and then proclaim or let someone else proclaim that at the eleventh hour you've finally solved the space-time problem. Or you can start by declaring that novels can no longer be written, and then, behind our own back as it were, produce a mighty blockbuster that establishes you as the last of the great novelists."

Grass continues to poke fun at literary critics before we hear about his grandmother. A story that starts in the middle of her life and proceeds to become confusing--sort of.


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Tue Aug 17, 2010 11:17 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
I am always fascinated when the narrator addresses the reader directly. It is eqivilant to a character in a film facing the camera and speaking directly to the viewer. It sometimes takes me aback. ("Are you talking to me?")

In this case, Grass gives us a glimpse at the creative process a novelist goes through when creating a new project. It seems he has decided to start near the end (Matzerath in the mental institution) and he then "strikes out boldly backward" to before the begining - before Matzerath was born - with the story of his grandmother.



Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:41 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
You are very observant, and you are very correct to feel the way you do vstrow. This mode of writing, second person point of view makes the reader a part of the story. “You” become a character, and it can be a bit unsettling. It makes “you” as a reader more vested in the story, and almost forces you to become a part of it whether you like it or not.

There are a couple of things going on here as far as writing style. We know that the events that will be told to us have already happened; this makes Oskar an unreliable narrator. I personally like this mode of writing, it is similar to the writing of “Lolita”. The reader must decide if the narrator is telling the truth. Most unreliable narrators want the reader to perceive them in a certain light, usually a favorable one. Grass’s introduction of the second person point of view reinforces this desire. This desire to make a favorable impression can be seen in the following passage:

“I have also been told that it makes a good impression, an impression of modesty so to speak, if you begin by saying that a novel can’t have a hero any more because there are no more individualists, because individuality is a thing off the past.” But then he continues with:

“. . . each man and all men together—is alone in his loneliness and no one is entitled to individual loneliness.” (pg 17) Oskar is isolated behind bars, but I do believe this sentence means more than just his current isolated residence. It has a foreshadowing quality about it.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this passage?



Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:57 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
He wants us to think, that although he is 'an inmate of a mental hospital' and not in a mental hospital (like a member of a country club), he has control over his situation. He bosses his brown eyed keeper - telling him that his creations are better left white like his bed, and persuading him buy 'virgin' paper.

He is arrogant and conceited. He sees himself as a hero. What has he done to make him feel this way?

Why does he mock his visitors? Why does he wish to have silence that he 'plaits between the white metal bars'? And, why does he also talk about individual loneliness....?

Oskar feels that we should know about his origins. He tells us the story of his grandmother hiding a villain, with his pants down, under her skirts. When the constables leave, she stands up. He buttons his pants. She gives him potatoes, gives him the lighter bag, and takes him home. She seems dim-witted, but she knows what she wants. In an unreliable way, she is portrayed as a hero.

He will 'excrete his syllables' and we will listen.


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Tue Aug 24, 2010 8:47 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
Boy, this forum has taken off like a rocket. I hope everyone stays with it. This is some good discussion.

Did anyone laugh as hard as I did while reading this chapter? I loved the grandmother immediately. Her sighs, her rolling eyes and self-control during an outrageous situation. I agree with Sillyme, this is a woman who knows what she wants. I can't wait to see how this character plays out.

Susanne,
as far as Oskar being an unreliable narrator, I guess I am too willing to suspend my disbelief. I'm probably a fiction writers best audience because I'll go along with themes unless they are really very far out. Oskars appeal to the reader reminded me of Dickens and Nabakov; pulling the reader into their confidence and telling the story from the past and present perspective. Interesting that you should mention Nabokov. I recently read Grass' Too Far Afield. I think he took this type of writing to its furthest conclusion in that book (using multiple time periods and characters that overlap each other), although I do not feel that he did it as well as Nabokov. Perhaps we could compare the two authors some other time.

The individual loneliness theme is very interesting and one that I'll be interested to look at throughout the book. Grass may be referring to the unsettling, yet bonding consequences of the War. Is he saying that individuallity has been destroyed? How does this play out sixty years later as we all live in a much smaller an less private world?

Enjoyable reading everyone!



Tue Aug 24, 2010 2:28 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
lindad_amato wrote:
The individual loneliness theme is very interesting and one that I'll be interested to look at throughout the book. Grass may be referring to the unsettling, yet bonding consequences of the War.


I have to agree with you lindad, a war certainly bonds people together. Imagine living in Germany during this time, many people may have felt afraid to express their true feelings, which would have made them feel lonely. An entire nation enduring feelings that are so raw and emotional could be considered a collective loneliness, therefore the individual component is removed.

lindad_amato wrote:
Did anyone laugh as hard as I did while reading this chapter? I loved the grandmother immediately.


Yes, I was laughing with you, especially over the shot gun wedding, and the incredible limberness of Koljaiczek! Wow, thank goodness grandma positioned her feet before the potato fire just right, otherwise, Oskar's mother may never have been conceived. :lol:

lindad_amato wrote:
as far as Oskar being an unreliable narrator, I guess I am too willing to suspend my disbelief. I'm probably a fiction writers best audience because I'll go along with themes unless they are really very far out.


The unreliable narrator is not necessarily lying on purpose. Of course some due, Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert from "Lolita" is a good example of this, but, look at Pi, from “Life of Pi”, Pi was not intentionally lying, his version of the truth just may have been a bit skewed, so it is understandable that a reader will believe what the narrator is saying, until there is a reason to doubt.



Fri Aug 27, 2010 7:41 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
So far I do not know if I am enjoying this book or not. It is sort of strange. Not in the way that The Wind Up Bird Chronicles is strange. I think there is a darkness to it. I sometimes like darkness but sometime it is too much. And I am not sure how I feel about the way that that scene with Annie and the man to become her husband took place next to the fire. I mean was this a consensual thing? Do we know? Of course Annie did not seem too disturbed by it. The whole thing was really strange. Is it symbolic? I am not sure. I am going to keep reading and see. The books seems very strange to me, though, so far.



Sun Aug 29, 2010 12:12 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
seespotrun2008 wrote:
And I am not sure how I feel about the way that that scene with Annie and the man to become her husband took place next to the fire. I mean was this a consensual thing?


This is a great point, one I had not thought about before, lets work this one out. Anna was strong, and she was smart. The description of the four skirts are interesting, Anna seems to be well protected from outside forces by wearing so many, but the inside skirt, the one touching her is very personal and private. What is the reason for her wearing so many skirts? She may be wearing so many to protect her tender private parts underneath. (Hiding them) She may have been violated before, may even by her brother Vincent.

Another interesting factor to consider is how she married him so quickly, that very night, this astounds me, there had to be for a reason, a woman cannot know she is pregnant only a few hours after intercourse. At first I thought, well, she just wanted to be married, but why would she want to marry him? It may be possible that Anna was allready pregnant, her wearing four and sometimes five skirts at a time would help hide a pregnancy, this would be another example of hiding. Anna knew she could not reveal Koljaiczek for fear of being killed herself, so under her skirts he remained, so I would have to think, it was not consensual. However, again, Anna was smart and had a survivor instinct. She hid Koljaiczek, she knew he owed her his life, she may have used the situation to her advantage. I can certainly see Anna taking that hot poker and poking Koljaiczek with it, but she didn't. I think she also knew he wouldn't be sticking around long, this way, she could have her baby, without the troublesome husband.

When the actual event occured is clear, Anna sighs and gazes upwards. The men in uniforms inquire about Anna's sigh, but she has an expresionless gaze on her face. This introduces a fear of men in uniform. But why does she gaze upwards, upwards to heaven. Is she saying, "thank you God, I enjoyed it?", or "why did you let this happen to me"?, or, "thank God, I've got a way out of this mess".

Of course this is conjecture on my part, we may never know for sure.

seespotrun2008 wrote:
I think there is a darkness to it. I sometimes like darkness but sometime it is too much.


I do hope you stick with it. I cannot assure you that the darkness will fade, but, Grass does a great job in lightening this darkness with humor.



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Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:24 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
Quote:
I do hope you stick with it. I cannot assure you that the darkness will fade, but, Grass does a great job in lightening this darkness with humor.


I will stick with it and see where it goes. I do not give on books very easily. :)



Sun Aug 29, 2010 11:52 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
Suzanne wrote:
Grass does a great job in lightening this darkness with humor.


And here is another example: "This act of violence robe me of my inner balance and good cheer for as long as his visit lasts--and lawyers always have plenty of say."

Looks like Oskar and Grass will take turns talking to us.


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Post Re: Ch. 1, The Wide Skirt
I think the grandmother's willingness not only to hid a criminal under her skirts, but to become an accomplice in his unholiness (even before they get to know one another!) is a testimony to the hunger for adventure that we all have. She, too, is a hero in the early stages of this book, for allowing herself to jump into the current and let this raging river take her where it may.



Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:31 pm
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