Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Tin Drum - Paradox In Ideological Adherence

Should I or shouldn’t I?
I should, I must.
I will grow.

The last words of Oskar Matzareth which marked his transition from childhood to adulthood independence.

Growth (transition from youth to adulthood) involves time, change and transformation; thus, it requires ‘sacrificing’ or letting go of one’s past and present state/situation to fulfill one’s perceived expectation of his/her role in society in the future (being an adult). Generally, we have gone through the ‘youth’ stage as Oskar Matzerath wanted to remain and permanently be. In the movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum), Oskar’s fixated behavior on his tin drum portrayed our youth – highlighted by his roles, beliefs, ideology and actions. But the over-display and exaggeration of Oskar’s capability and behavior shown in the film simply intended to show how culture, society and environment defined an individual’s perception of the ‘world’ – his ideology. Captured by Oskar’s fanatical and aggressive manners, I will examine the external environment, culture and society affect the transformation of an individual identity (concentrating on the youth identity of Oskar). After looking at the micro-level impact of the socializing agents, I will also look how culture sets political priorities and how culture forms/cause political mobilization.

Under the Skirt Environment
The movie Die Blechtrommel (the Tin Drum) occurred in Danzig, during the early 1900s before the World War II. This period can be referred to the rise of Nazism (or National Socialism) in the region. In the film, after the birth of Oskar, his parents waved a tiny Nazi flag in front of him. This demonstrated the prominence of the Nazi status in Danzig during the start of the 1900s. More so, during this period of intrusion and domination by the Nazis, it showed superiority, violence and force in the region (that is why the novel of Grass raised serious issues on contemporary Germans, which involved the Germans responsible for the Nazi war crimes). Consequently, the Nazi superiority penetrated itself in the society and culture of the free city, Danzig, marked by intruding/interfering with individual ‘rights’ (privacy of Anna Koljaiczek), family struggles, military obligations (shown by Alfred, Oskar’s father), destruction of peace in community (damage done to infrastructures and businesses) and clash with the Polish (combat in the Polish post office).

On top of these effects, the movie points on the individual level – specifically Oskar’s youth identity – as the most striking implication of the repressive order. Oskar, at a young age (or even before he entered the world from his mother’s womb), have already witnessed and have been exposed to this dark society which causes him to hide in his grandmother’s skirt to escape this repressive, dominated Nazi condition. As a result, Oskar has created and made his own world known as ‘under skirt’ world – wherein his rebellious and defiant beliefs, attitude and behavior have been shaped. The point I want to make is that when external forces enter a certain culture and society, it may change (low or high level of effect) the society’s structure (attitude, ideology) and society’s direction (goals, motivations). Moreover, it did not only alter the structure of the society but is also defined and transformed the individual formation.

The Binding Triangle
We are immersed in what may be called the triangular socializing and limiting agents in life – the environment, the society and the culture. To further elaborate my point in the first part, environment refers to the external agents and forces that offer and provide a transformative and new line of values, ideas and behavior (which may directly or indirectly attack the population). Culture, on the other hand, may view these external agents/forces as a threat to the overall structure and organization of the community. Culture offers a worldview that explains why and how individuals and groups behave as they do, and includes both cognitive and affective beliefs about social reality and assumptions about when, where and how people in one’s culture and those in other cultures are likely to act in particular ways (Ross 1997). Culture then provides a shield/guard to resist the external threats through the norms, rituals, traditions and value system. However, knowing these norms, rituals and traditions are not enough to safe guard us from threats and dismantling our loyalty and unity; and therefore, we need society - society refers to a collection of people bound by shared institutions that define how human relations should be conducted (Ross 1997). This means that institutions build ties and bonds among us; it socializes and makes as aware of these norms, laws, standards and the roles we play in the community. The society and culture here may be considered as binding agents against the external forces (threats).

However, external forces still do enter and break the walls of culture and the society. Indeed, it is difficult to separate and distinguish the effect of each agents from the other especially in the modern multi-cultural and globalized world.

Inside the Bermuda Triangle (the dark society) – the Youth Identity
The triangular socializing factors (environment, culture and society) define our roles and boundaries. Furthermore, socio-cultural groups and institutions entail clear expectations about how people are to act depending on our roles. In the film the Tin Drum, Oskar revealed the general value and behavior of the youth. Youth, which was exhibited in the movie, is not a universal category of biology but a changing social construct which appeared at a particular moment of time under definitive conditions (Barker 2000). This means that youth can be understood as a spatial matter, that is, youth may be produced differently in divergent spaces and places. Furthermore, in abstract, youth is a social position between childhood dependence and adult responsibility can be seen in the institutions of the family and education (Barker 2000). Therefore, childhood dependence and reliance leads to subordination and under the control of adults in society (parents in the family institution, teachers in the academic world). The young are then given limited avenues of freedom and expression and even are restricted in their actions, values and behavior.

Oskar also experienced the same limitation and restriction in his beliefs, interests and in his character. His social experiences within institutions such as family, school organizations and military exposure all provided cultural messages which reflected his values and expectations. However, cultural messages allow different interpretations and internalizations. In the case of Oskar, he viewed and understood his environment and society to be a repressive and unjust state which established his outlook and values towards his life and the world. In this state of transition, Oskar has invested in it as a privileged site in which to foreground his own sense of difference marked with the refusal to identify with the perceived routinized everyday life and perceived subordination. Youth has now become an ideological signifier charged with ‘anti-society, pro-self’ perception of the world. His behavior and attitude is feared by others as a potential threat to existing norms and system. According to Barker, youth is an especially formative stage of development, where attitudes and values become anchored to ideologies and remain fixes in this mould for life (Barker, 2000). Also, the transition from childhood dependence to adult autonomy normally involves a rebellious phase, which is itself part of a cultural tradition transmitted from one generation to the next (Barker 2000). Therefore, when young people go ‘out of bounds’, they get noticed and become visible. This allows them to ‘play with the only power at their disposal – the power to discomfort, to pose a threat’.

Idiosyncratic Ideology
Ideology is set of values and ideas regarding fundamental goals of social interaction (Oneil 2004). Our ideologies are based on our interpretations of particular social and political significance. Individual ideology has the ability to mobilize action and values. In fact, Oskar has demonstrated his ‘self-centered’ and ‘anti–socal’ identity through (1) his tin drum and (2) his high, glass-breaking scream. These two forces was a sign of his protest towards the hypocritical German-polish family and disgusted by the German society. He used both protest tools in order to control people (parents – Alfred, Jan and Agnes) and situations happening around him (confusing Nazi marches and bands, disrupt fascist rallies).

This individual protest/demonstration was built on his anger and perceived threat to his (selfish) values and personal favor. Likewise, cultural mobilization builds on fears and perceived threats that are consistent with internalized worldviews (against their high-group quality interaction and emotional solidarity).

Culture order political priorities (Ross 1997), meaning, it defines the symbolic and material objects people consider valuable and worth fighting over. Culture then defines interests and how they are to be pursued. Groups and sectors do have certain valued and observed norms, ideals and convictions. Once these ideals and convictions are threatened, they may organized collection action to foreground their own sense of difference and may demonstrate their disagreement and opposition especially to a repressive environment.

In relation to Oskar, his attachment to his tin drum symbolized him. The tin drum became part of him. You cannot separate him and his tin drum as you cannot separate his youth to his life. This showed who he was and what mattered fighting over – his life, his youth.

Should I or shouldn’t I?
I fought. I did.
I have grown.


Barker (2000). “Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice”, Chapter 11: Youth, Style and Resistance.
Oneil, P (2004). Essentials of Comparative Politics. NY:W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Ross, M. (1997), “Culture and Identity in Comparative Analysis,” Chapter 3 of Mark Lichbach’s and Alan Zuckerman’s Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure.

J. P. Uy

The movie The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) is about a young boy named Oskar who lived during the World War II in Germany and refused to grow up at three years old. He deliberately threw himself from the stairs in order to stop his growth; being aware of the unfaithful relationships and the unforgiving realities of grown-ups, Oskar did not want to take part of this ‘adulthood’.

On his third birthday, Oskar received a new drum. Whenever his parents or other people around him treat him harshly, he beats on his drum as loud as he can; and when his tin drum is taken away from him, he gives an ear-piercing shriek that literally breaks glass.

The tin drum here is used as a metaphor about refusing the Nazi regime. Oskar’s refusal to grow and give up his drum is a metaphor on resisting the Nazis. the manifestations of this are when he was forced to do something he did not want or there were situations he did not favor, he forcefully hammered on his drum, like in the classroom scene or when he followed his mother and her lover to the hotel. If analyzed closely, we will see that Oskar’s resistance and refusal to the unfavorable situation is like an individual’s resistance and refusal to the regime which he/she thinks is wrong. Another scene which is more obvious was when Oskar decided to give up his drum and to continue his growth after his father’s death. Alfred Matzerath’s death symbolizes the fall of Nazism. The screenplay is based on the celebrated novel of German author Gunter Grass.

In this movie, it is shown how ideology, a system of illusory beliefs—false ideas or false consciousness—which can be contrasted with true or scientific knowledge, affects the course of action taken by the individual. Ideology here is linked with the behavior of escapism.

This is exactly how Marxists view religion—that it is the opium of the masses. Religion gives false hopes to suffering people who expect that they will be saved from hell’s fire and will experience eternal happiness after their present lives. Another example would be how people believe that joining the lottery or game shows would instantly eliminate their poverty. Charms and crystals bring good luck and therefore should always be worn.

Man cannot face all its problems and solve everything that is why they create means to give an easy answer or a short-term solution, which is basically the nature of ideology.

Oskar’s belief that his tin drum could save him in times of trouble led him to somehow control his parents and the people around him. It serves as his protection from being accountable to his actions and being condemned. He used it to gain attention. During his teenage years, he ran away from home to leave his miserable life and relationships behind and joined the circus, performing with his drum and his glass-breaking talent.

The movie is political in the sense that Oskar used his tin drum to defend himself. The tin drum and the scream serve as his power—the power to control or change, and at the same time his sanctuary—to escape from the miseries and truth.

Sometimes, we run from the judging eyes of society by settling on a certain group of ideas which we can relate to and will be able to justify our actions. And we live our lives based on that ideology. It is a reaction or a response to the norms imposed by society.

O. Woods


buagñin said...

"That day, thinking about the grown-up world and my own future, I decided to call a halt. To stop growing then and there and remain a three-year-old, a gnome, once and for all".

Oskar Matzerath is a young man trapped in a body of a three year old within the period of the rise of the Nazi regime. Indeed, as many critics said, this film – The Tin Drum, is difficult to understand. Oskar, the main character of the film can be regarded as an allegory about one’s protest against the cruelty of the world. On the other hand, he can be just regarded as a typical 3-year old brat who wants nothing but his tin drum beside him.

As for me, I take this film as full of magical realism by which Oskar plays a significant role in the period of the rise of the Nazi regime. Oskar, though treated like a 3-year old boy by the people around him, mentally and physically grows up like a normal human being. The reason he decided to stop growing is because of the fact that he does not want to become a part of the sinful adult life. He thinks that if he grows up, he will just be the same adults that he has seen in his third birthday. In this, he tries to preserve his child-like innocence by throwing himself on the cellar stairs and attaching himself on his tin drum. Perhaps the tin drum becomes the symbol of his pursuit for a child-like innocence. That is why whenever someone tries to separate it from him, he becomes really angry. The tin drum then becomes his sanctuary that whatever happens as long as he has it, he will remain as a 3-year old boy forever.

However, though he has able to stop his growth and confined himself in a body of a 3-year old, he still has witnessed the inhumanity of the world. In this, Oskar witnesses the split of his town by nationality namely the German, the Polish and the Kashubian and by religion namely the Protestant, the Jewish and the atheist. He witnessed how the people readily accept the spread of Nazism and act nothing to prevent it.

I think the decision made by Oskar to stop his growth so as he can evade the sins of the adults does not really comply with his plans. Though, he has able to hide inside a child’s body, his mind and emotions grow like the other people. This is seen when he has fallen in love with Maria, a 16 year old girl who lives in their house to assist in their household chores. Even though Oskar succeeds in his plan to remain a boy forever, he cannot prevent himself from growing inside. He is like a young man trying to hide in an innocent looking child to escape from reality. But the film shows that hiding in a child’s body does not guarantee that one can escape from the inhumane world. It seems that Oskar really cannot escape from the true nature of the world. He cannot escape from his true nature in that he has to suffice his earthly satisfactions and needs.

While watching the film, I remember Peter Pan who also wants to remain a boy forever. In this, I wonder why people are so afraid to grow up or grow old. Perhaps they want to savor the life without complicated problems experienced by adults. However, the difference between Oskar and Peter Pan is that the former wants to stop his growth because he does not want to become a sinful adult while the latter chooses to be a boy who has no worries but to enjoy and play. It must be wonderful to remain a child forever but the consequence of growing up in a not-growing-body is hard to imagine. It must be difficult to gain respect from other people who think of you as just a midget. However, Oskar’s talent of breaking a glass with his high pitched voice gains him respect from the society of giants. Taken from the line in the film, people like Oskar should not just be contented of being part of the audience. They should be the one to run the show or else it will be the other way around. I like this part of the film because I think it has a symbolism in the real world. Perhaps the film tries to convey that even people who seem to be of not use can manipulate other people who have greater power and wealth. The film suggests that these midgets use their skills and special abilities so as bigger people will not harm or manipulate them.

In general, the film has actually instilled in me the importance of the youth which is unstained and pure. Indeed, the film shows a symbolic protest against the inhumane discrimination and division caused by the rise of the Nazi regime. Though it is a bit difficult to comprehend, I finally realize that the film tries to instill to its audience the innocence and sinless acts of the youth. What I gain in the film is the notion of changing one’s ideology so as to evade the sinful life of adulthood. The youngsters were brought in this world with no control whatsoever of the standards and norms of the society. They are simply controlled by the rules set up by the adults. In addition, the film has tried to show that not all set up standards and norms of society are good and beneficial. The problem however is that almost all people especially the youth are left with no choice but to follow. Oskar, on the other hand, has gotten away with it by stopping his growth to avoid the adult life. This denotes that there is always a way to show protests against any inhumane acts or rules of the society and change one’s ideology.


me_delas_alas said...

Yet another controversial film about the struggle of the Jews on the onset of World War II, the Tin Drum is one of those films that carry very subtle and yet very striking message, which is not very easy to find within in the film. I will focus on how the film represents a phenomenon in politics that has always been present in any political system around the world: the problem of political apathy, and that this affects participation of an individual within the society that he belongs to.

I see Oskar, the main character of The Tin Drum, as an effective embodiment of political apathy. I think that I am the only person who saw this angle, but nonetheless, although it seems very interpretive, I believe it is one of the main messages of the film – to let its audience think and interpret the film. After all, it is not an easy watch. In the film, Oskar refuses to grow old as a result of the problematic and frenzied life of adulthood that he saw. The only motivating force for him was his tin drum, which was literally inseparable from him ever since he got his drum. In the same way, indifferent people oftentimes choose not to participate in political activities for either the fear that anything bad might happen or just because they believe that their participation is a waste of time, both for him and for the system. The notion of an ordinary person that, for example, my one vote will not even fix the lamppost on our street or put corruption to a end, leads to lower voter turn out, and in effect, lower accountability. Apathy, then, can be an effect of low levels of political trust to the system, which is evidently seen in the film’s context because of the repressive nature within the film’s environment. In our present day, trust is a significant feature of any democratic system, and that is why public opinion matters, because the public is a principal tenet of democracy. It is alarming that political apathy even exists, which means that low levels of trust actually exist.

Significantly also, every time somebody wants to get Oskar’s tin drum from him, he shrieks at them to protect himself and his tin drum from those who want to devoid him of his choice, that is, to remain young. In effect, political apathy sometimes cease to exist if a compelling event forces the indifferent to protect themselves from any force that they may eventually threaten their existence. For example, if a repressive regime starts to plague the political system, its citizens might be forced to take one step further to protect, at the very least, their existence. This may rise to revolutionary actions within which the components are not always those in power: farmers, teachers, tricycle drivers, even the jobless. But consequently however, according to the J curve theory of revolutions by Davies (1962), as time pass by after the revolution, a revolutionary gap may exist, which is the difference between what people expect from the revolutionary regime and what they actually get, thus apathy will again perpetuate this cycle. Here, the in drum represents what people hold on to as very important to their lives: things such as jobs, freedom of speech, land ownership and the luxury of sleeping well through the night. If these important things are threatened, even the most indifferent will constitute a protective action.

However, we find that in the end of the story, Oskar decides to throw his drum to the grave – a subtle symbolism of his decision to move on to his long over due adulthood. When people decide to give up what they want for the belief that something good might happen, they become more optimistic of the future. They might exchange, for example, their house for the belief that welfare would improve. In this case, we can slightly see improvement towards high political participation. But I believe it is not absolute. There can never be a perfect score to political activism by the people. It might reach a high, but not perfectly utopian. There will always be some people who hold on to a more demanding “tin drum” that they will always find something unbelievable with their political system, but even if these were addressed, some will still be found wanting.

We live in a discontented world. If we see that nothing will be done if we get into the puddle, then the mud will always exist because we believe that our participation will not be counted. We would either beat our own tin drum so that others may hear it, but oftentimes we choose to be silent. Our trust therefore will determine how well we try to help the whole of the political system we are into. We either become instruments of its triumph or the gravity for its fall.

mAc said...

Yet again, Tin Drum is one of the many films that depicted the oppression of World War II against humankind. The symbolism that Oskar, the central character of the film, stood for centers on an individual’s protest against the inhumanity and cruelty of the world. At the very moment of his birth, he passionately asserted his objection to ‘growing’ and at the same time, his desire to obtain a tin drum at the age of three. This declaration of his marked the beginning of his socialization which in my opinion is somehow amusing in lieu of the fact that at such age his mental cognition is well developed. By physically being a child, he wanted to be labeled as an innocent individual free from responsibilities; emphasizing the overused maxim ‘ignorance is bliss’, at the same time acknowledging his opposition to the infidelity of men against themselves.

The way he envisioned how his life was going to be was no mere accident. It was pre-determined and reinforced by a number of occasions in his life. Born into a divided world wherein both Germans and Poles live in the state of Danzig, he merited the nationalistic arrogance of people around him as too problematic an issue. In addition, the uncertainty of who his biological father was played a significant role to his objection of becoming an adult. With a promiscuous mother who committed suicide in the latter part of the story, the recipe for ‘I don’t want to grow and be like you’ was perfect. Various incidents in the later part of the film also reinforced this decision of his. For one, being sexually involved with Maria, the latter’s marriage with Alfred, one of his fathers, prompted him to join a band of performing dwarfs whose purpose was to entertain the German troupes at the front line. His association with the group, especially with one of his female counterparts, bolstered his choice not to grow.

This brings us to the two of the most important symbolisms in the film – his tin drum and his knack for a shrieking voice. The literal dimension of these two symbolisms in the film socially empowered him. By physically being a child, his bargaining power with the adults for his needs and grievances to be heard is not that significant. To suffice this insignificant bargaining power, his employment of striking his tin drum repeatedly and/or his unfettered screaming for his needs and wants to be heard prove to be very effective. And by maintaining his physical appearance throughout the years, he was not held accountable and responsible for his actions. This highlights one of the compensations for being a child. As Meridith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy) asserts, Being an adult is totally overrated…adulthood is responsibility…responsibility really does sucks! All the sex you can get, the liquor you can drink, the cigarettes you can smoke, and ultimately, the freedom and liberty of doing whatsoever you desire being adults are shrouded by two unpleasant facts: first, you are growing old, and second, the responsibility that comes with every actions you undertake. The actions of the adults are certainly limited by some external factors. John Mill’s assertion that that my rights are limited by your rights and vice versa is an example.

The allegorical symbolism of his tin drum and his knack for a shrieking voice ultimately pointed to a child’s protest against the irresponsible and negligent actions of most of the adult world during that time. His decision to stay as a child for the rest of his life signified his intention of not wanting to be a part of that ‘world’. Further, the ambiance of a chauvinistic zealousness for each nationalities in the contextual setting of the story (for which it was a driving force for World War I i.e., Germany’s territorial expansion to include German nationals in foreign territories), two birth fathers, a promiscuous mother, and war-ridden setting buttressed his loathing against the adult world. Thus, his decision not to grow was somehow justified.

However, towards the end of the film, at the burial of his father, he proclaimed his desire to grow. In my opinion, this declaration of his marked his wanting to share a hand in rebuilding the war-torn place. With most immature adult people gone, he desires to transform the society into a responsible and conscientious one. In doing so, he reaffirmed the nature’s course of growing old.


alejandro said...

In the film “The Tin Drum,” Oskar was a boy who did not want to grow up, because he did not want to be involved in any way with what the adults do. He decided to stay as a three year old – the time when he got his most beloved tin drum as a birthday gift from his parents. He let himself fall from the top of the stairs in order for him to stop growing physically. Although not growing physically does not result in the stopping of growth in age, Oskar still considered the stopping of his growth in height as a successful means to achieve his goal of not growing up, and staying as a three year old. This decision of Oskar was portrayed in the film through his continuous use of his tin drum. He had his mind set on what he wants and what he does not want, and he uses the tin drum and his high-pitched voice to make sure that things go the way he wants. While he was growing up in age, – although not in height – his fixation on the use of his tin drum only strengthens. He never let anyone take his tin drum away from him.

However, as the film progressed, and Oskar got older, – although he did not grow in height – he engaged himself in the activities of the adults, which he initially did not want to be involved with, as evidenced by his decision to stop growing.

At the latter part of the film, Oskar finally decided to grow up. In fact, he exclaimed: “I must grown up.” This decision was illustrated with the use of Oskar’s tin drum when he finally let go of it. Therefore, although Oskar was a boy who seemed to be very definite on what he wants from the start of the film, – he was even portrayed of being able to decide on whether to let himself out of the womb of his mother or not – he was soon portrayed as being engaged in the adult activities which he himself promised not to be engaged with the moment that he decided to stop growing. Hence, Oskar was not able to hold on to what he initially wanted, and was portrayed to be engaged in and to be seemingly enjoying adult activities, such as having sex with their family’s house helper. He soon became one of the adults, involved in adult activities, despite his initial aim to do away with them. Therefore, he succumbed to the expectation of society on him, like any other child, which was to grow up, be an adult, and be engaged in adult activities.

After watching the film, I did not think that it was an effective medium for political socialization. Initially, I did not understand the importance of the film in relation to its context, which was Nazism in Germany. However, after reading the reviews and after listening to the reports in class regarding this film, I soon realized that it could be an effective medium for political socialization. Oskar had to struggle to let time stand still and let things be the way they are with the use of his tin drum, amidst the time of Nazism in Germany, when things, undeniably, would be changed. I actually found Oskar admirable because of his adamant attitude in life, and his struggle to resist change.

mimah said...

Tin Drum is another controversial film that did not fail to amaze and to surprise me at the same time. I mean, I vaguely remember the moments I had when I was three years old and here is Oskar, who at three years old, made a decision that affected his life forever. Most probably, at age three, I was busy playing with my dolls and plastic kitchenware and never did I think of not wanting to grow up. Also, call me so optimistic and so ideal as a child but I have never thought of something bad about adult life. All I care is that I am happy, I have my parents and I am well fed. Oskar, on the other hand, seems to be more mature than his age that he is so determined not to grow up after witnessing the sinful and inhumane lives the people around him has.

Quoting from website, “The first three year’s of a child’s life are the prime time for parents […] to provide positive experiences that will affect the rest of the child’s life.” True enough in the film, the first three years of Oskar’s childhood, I believe is a failure on the part of the parents and other relatives. If he had the right environment and exposure, he would not have decided to jump down the cellar. The Tin Drum is the only object he clings to wherever he goes. It somehow symbolizes the youth, the innocence he wanted to preserve no matter what. To protect his “innocence”, he shrieks with his piercing voice that could really shatter glasses. It is his defense mechanism to stand by his decision. However, what Oskar was not able to realize is that only his physical body would not grow, but his mind and emotions will still undergo the normal process of development. He had his fair share of sexual activities with their former helper turned stepmother, Maria and his found partner, another midget like him. He also had the instincts of a father when he saw his brother, the baby of Maria. Moreover, he may want to preserve his youth yet he does not have total control of the society he belongs to. Growing up inside a three-year old body does not stop him from witnessing the wrath of the spread of Nazism and the division of his town and family into German and Polish.

In Oskar’s life, we can see socialization only he contradicts the ideals and values of the environment he lives in by not wanting to be an adult. Using the primacy model, “childhood learning is ‘deep learning’ because it provides a framework for interpreting further information acquired in adulthood.” (Hague and Harrop 2004, p. 101) For Oskar, he has acquired that ‘deep learning’. His framework was all about being young, carefree and independent of his family. I had the impression that he goes home just for the sake of being at home. He found a job and made a living on his own, away from his family. In fact, it seems he does not need his family at all. He satisfied his sense of belongingness in a crowd of midgets like himself. He even had the second chance to find love amongst them.

Using another model, the alternative recency model, it says that “current information carries more weight just because it is contemporary […] adult reality packs more punch than childhood myths.” (Hague and Harrop 2004, p. 102) In the end, Oskar threw his tin drum into the grave of his father. It symbolizes his willingness to let go of his wants to be a child, to preserve his youth. With the war, deaths of loved ones and other heart breaking events that passed by, this ‘adult reality’ made him realized, he really has to grow literally. Maybe he thought that it’s about time that he acts responsibly for his family not only for his bratty-child self.

Socialization does not end when one becomes an adult. It is a lifelong process as long as the world is turning, politics is alive and kicking, culture and society are intermingling and one is actively or passively participating and living. As for Oskar, he just stop the ‘socialization’ or growth of his body but not his mind and emotions that shaped his identity. After all these years of wanting to remain being three years old, he has actually grown.

Richard Henrick said...

Ideology could be defined as an organized collection of ideas that reflects an individual or a group’s social needs and aspirations. It oftentimes serves as a guide in decision-making, and it gives certain prescriptions and recommendations. Given that it is prescriptive, it always necessitates an “upper body”, which will be the source of the ideas that are to be prescribed. This “upper body” formulates the standard on what will be good and bad, which is based on their biased perspectives. Placing a value standard on a certain idea is based on the goals they’ve set for themselves. In turn, it is this “upper body” that determines what is in the best interest of those of its subordinates. These subordinates, by being followers of an ideology, are being conditioned by the “upper body” in a manner that will allow the latter to have maximum control. Through proper education of subordinates and right usage of symbolisms, the “upper body” win the support of the subordinates over the ideology. After the subordinates have embraced the ideology that their “upper body” have created for them, whatever it is that the upper body will do/ made their subordinates do are always legitimized by saying that it is a part of the ideology.

Who is the “upper body”? Differing societies and at different levels have different constitutions on who the upper body is. For Marx, in some societies, the base (the society’s means of production) may be subordinate to its superstructure (the “upper body” and the one that determines the societal ideology), but it is still the base which determines its superstructure. Thereby, the superstructure can’t really be attributed as the real “upper body” for it is still dependent on the base. Hegemons on the other hand, as forwarded by Antonio Gramsci, could be classified as upper bodies that have monopoly of its ideology for it makes its subordinates have a false conception of their own interests.

One thing that is important to remember is that ideology formation is institutionalized not only on the public sphere. As individuals, we all have our own ideas and own set of values that we institute amongst ourselves. It is in this regard that we see that ideology formation is also a private business. When we do that, it is either we accept or reject ideologies that are prescribed to us. Sometimes, we even add to it and prescribe some to be removed. However, seeing that the basis of our decision for determining which is in or out of our personal ideology is determined still by surrounding factors makes us all products of “the binding triangle”.

However, are we always trapped under the influences of our environment, culture? In the film “The tin drum”, what the main character, Oskar, have shown to us is that there is always a way to go against the flow. We could always pursue what we think is right and we could always challenge a certain norm. For me, Oskar symbolizes the minority. By his physical attributes, he is certainly not part of the majority because of his abnormality in terms of him acquiring a stunted growth. However, he demonstrates to us that though you are a minority, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you could always be overpowered. A minority could always challenge norms and ideologies that he thinks is something worth challenging. All they need to do is to make their voices powerful enough just like what Oskar does whenever he is against something: he screams and makes his high-pitched voice break a glass. Preventing their rise and making them disordered is also another way of protest; just like what Oskar did in the fascist rally. In himself, Oskar could be said to be an “upper body”, who has his own ideology and is spreading it into others. In the movie, Oskar also thought us the importance of being with people with the same predispositions as you do. It is important in making you more confident and in gaining support for your own ideologies.

It is also important in ideology formation that you have to really know what it is that you really want. That is something that Oskar also thought us, whom from even before his entrance in the world knows already that all he wanted was his tin drum. Protest and rejection of an ideology may not necessarily be forwarding your own ideology, but rather forwarding someone’s. You might just have the impression of it being your interests but the truth is that you are really just forwarding someone’s ideology who pushed you to reject the other one.

In conclusion, I think that all ideologies are by-products of surroundings. Seeing that everyone also has his/her own individual ideologies, this is also just influenced by ideologies. But seeing that we are not always just trapped in a single ideology for we could always challenge the one being imposed to us, dominant ideologies are also shaped by the society. In the end, there is a cycle that brings about the continuous changes in ideologies. And it is this phenomenon that makes our society dynamic.

Tephanie said...

That is so unusual. That is in fact, so weird! That is what’s constantly running on my mind as I watched The Tin Drum. It is certainly one difficult film to watch, with the never ending surprises, and not to mention the twists and turns in the life of the main character. I have to however commend the film for the extra-uniqueness and extra-bizarre concepts and scenes that it delivered. Considering that, the article above I must say have been able to capture the heart of this “stubborn” film. Stubborn is for its difficulty of being grasped fully. The heart of the film was captured through the capturing of its lead character Oskar’s varying world views, change of hearts.

I’ve already said that this is not an easy film to watch. The primary reason for this is the difficulty to digest what is being told by the film. What is it trying to say with all the weird actions of its characters? I have though of it as a film on racism. Then I also considered it to be a film tackling adaptation. However, what was stuck with me upon watching the film was the concept of deviancy. There sure are a lot of weird things going around the film, and I think that is what the point of Oskar’s character is. Social norms are almost irrelevant when it comes to the desires and behavior of Oskar. He wishes for things that are not “normal” as dictated by society. As the article above discusses, three factors greatly affect an individual’s socialization – the environment, the culture, and the society. Contrary however to the common views on the binding effect of these three to Oskar, which is supposed to make him “follow the rules”, Oskar have instead decided to live a different life, different from those of the people immediately surrounding him.

He opted not to grow, and so he did not. The immediate environment, and even
society in general was not able to make him conform and be “normal”. What’s more surprising is that he was protesting against the societal norms even at a very young age! That marked the beginning of the idiosyncratic ideology that the article above has been referring to. Truly, it is not usual to encounter someone who’s a high-level anti-social, with a seemingly very silly sole goal in life: to stay young. Oskar did not see the need to become like the others. But he certainly did see the need to be young for life.

On the second thought, however, is it not that it’s also possible that the “binding triangle” also worked for Oskar, but in a totally different manner? It is in the first place the work of his immediate environment that he decided that he should never have to grow up and he certainly should not grow up. With that, he is after all, not deviant. He is just unusual. He took the socializing schemes surrounding him in a fairly different manner. That made him unusual.

Now that’s unusual.

asama said...

Small but terrible – this is probably what some elements of the film “Tin Drum (1971)” could be called. This line could be interpreted in many senses. Small can be literally small and not. Oskar was literally small in size, his tin drum was literally small as well. Some of his actions were indeed small. But all their impact could be terrible, terrible as in horrible, and terrible as in strong.

Such a small unborn thing Oskar was, he was already conscious of what was happening around him. If not for the promise of a tin drum on his third birthday, he would have even wanted to go back to his mother’s womb. Maybe that time he already knew that life inside the womb full of simplicity is better than being in the outside world, full of complexity, of hypocritical behavior, and adult madness. At three, when he received his tin drum, he even decided not to grow up, and he knew he could do it. By staging a fall in the cellar stairs, he succeeded in his plan, and from then on, never grew up. Small he was, but he succeeded in his initial attempt to protest, to resist.

Probably he was even successful in his attempt to manipulate. By falling down, Alfred, his father, could be perpetually blamed for leaving the door of the cellar open. And when someone is trying to take his tin drum away from him, he manages to make a glass-shattering scream that annoys and prevents people from taking the drum away from him.

Oskar is undoubtedly a brat, and I guess a lot of people will agree to this. He wants what he wants, and he beats his drum to manipulate people and get what he wants. His drum may in a sense be a symbol of his bratness. But to a deeper level, the drum really symbolizes his resistance to grow up, and this resistance symbolizes his protest to the current system (then) in Germany. Oskar's rejection of adulthood and his drumming and screaming can be seen as metaphors of stunted development, immorality, and senseless destruction that illuminate some of the effects of Nazism (The Tin Drum Grass Criticism).

Oskar was even able to manipulate a Nazi Marching band. By beating his drum, he was able to confuse the rhythm of the band and make them play Blue Danube and make everyone dance to the tune. The effect was gradual. At first, the drummers of the Nazi band were just making subtle mistakes until they were driven to play a completely different song. Another angle that can be seen from that scene would be that art can also defeat war (Wikipedia). I interpret Oskar’s drumming as a sign of political efficacy as well, though others could see it as mere deviance. Oskar believes that he was not helpless in affecting the present situation in that time. A single person he was, but through the confusion that he brought the Nazi marching band, we realize that a single subtle protest could actually progress into something more visible and effective. This reminds me of the concept of free-riding from Mancur Olson, which gives a possible explanation to the low level of participation of people in some social/political activities. It says that changing our own ways will have little or no impact on the overall problem and there are major financial and other costs associated with living differently (Marsh and Stoker, 2002). Well Oskar thought the opposite way.

The political socialization of one person is really necessary to determine the decisions that he/she will make in his/her life. If the society has socialized you to develop a structuralist ideology, then perhaps there’s no choice for that person to conform. At an early age, Oskar already knew what he wanted. And it’s a puzzle for me how he got to that decision considering that the people around him (his family in particular) could actually be considered conformists. Partly it could be just a part of the magical realism of the whole of the film. I am just wondering now if Oskar had also been politically socialized inside his mother’s womb, and from which ideology did he pattern the idea that he wanted to go back there.

In terms of politically socializing its audience, the film was really effective. It gives me a sense of locus of control on the things that affect my life, even the things I protest against. I need not necessarily conform to the society, I guess. I maybe just one voice but I count. And when he finally decided to grow up, it did not give me the impression that he is cowardly and could not pursue his original plan. But thinking about it, it has been ironic to me how Oskar refused to grow up and be a part of the madness of the adult world on the one hand, and do activities that he used to condemn on the other. But no matter irony we shall realize in the film, Oskar has always been brave to me. And making such a hard choice to grow up is a sign of bravery, though to others it is nothing more than the natural. Because by doing this, he proved he was brave enough to face reality and nature at last.


Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry. Theory and Methods in Political Science, 2nd ed. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 2002.

The Tin Drum Grass Criticism.

Agpalo said...

I can’t help but remember the story of Peter Pan when I watched the movie. There is this big similarity about Oskar never wanting to grow old. However the difference is far overwhelming even at the start of the movie. Clearly, Tin Drum is not highly as colorful or as playful as Peter Pan. Surely, it lacks Wendy, the ever so loving and nice girl in blue dress, nor does it have flying fairies. Tin Drum definitely has no Neverever Land where Captain Hook lives to defeat Peter Pan nor the lost boys who like him never wants to grow old.
However I believe there is more to the relationship of the Tin drum and Peter Pan than what meets the eyes.
Both show the escapists tendencies of humans that when faced with certain problems, people tend to create their own comfort zone.
Oskar for example, after discovering his uncle and mother’s affairs decided to never grows up. With his tin drum, he creates his own world where everything is what he wants it to be or what he thinks the world is. Like Peter Pan, he escapes into this world where he could forever play the part that gives him the outmost sense of security.
It is however important not to judge Oskar with his tin drum as a passive object of history. He indeed escapes into his own comfort zone but this does not mean that he detached himself completely to whatever is happening around him.
Like Peter Pan his want to create another world is a statement that he rejects the current condition of society.
We remember that Oskar is not a Jew, but instead is a legal (though not a biological) son of a Nazi supporter German. There was definitely no reason for him to reject the Nazi rule. It can be interpreted that his disgust to grow old is a reflection of his feelings towards his parent’ (particularly his supposed husband’s) support for the Nazi and Nazism itself.

Whereas Peter Pan focuses on the benefits of being a child forever, the Tin Drum highlights the things undesirable about being to grow-up. Peter pan plays with pastel and bright colors while tin Drum sticks with a darker tone and depressing combinations which highlights all the ‘undesirable’ things in the movie.

The film is a great medium for political socialization for several reasons. One is that the film strikes the audience perhaps weakest feelings and that is what to feel towards a boy who understands simply his world and realizes he rejects it for the plain reason that it is insensible and chaotic. This simple realization of a child who takes an immediate action to remedy his dilemma poses a big question and a challenge to the audience to reflect on what Oskar is disgruntled about. Disturbing scenes that not only keeps the audience awake but also keeps them in a constant uncomfortable feeling leaves a definite mark on its viewers.

kat suyat said...

Growing up.

I think that this is the main point of the film, The Tin Drum. Yes, like the other films that was watched and discussed by the class, it is mainly about the Rise of Nazism in Germany, but I do feel that the film could be better seen to revolve around the “coming of age” of Oskar (who actually never really grew up in physical terms) and the social factors and conditions that he grew upon.

The film was not an easy film to watch. Like what was said during the start of the viewing, it was an intellectual film- the meanings and morale was not given right there and then but rather, hidden beneath allegories and symbolisms. But even with such a case, I guess many would agree with me that the growing up part (or the not growing up since he decided to stop his growth by the age of 3) of Oskar is one, if not the main, central theme of The Tin Drum- this subject to different interpretations of meanings.

I would have to agree with the critiques that I have read over the web that the reason why Oskar decided to stop his physical growth was because he did not want to be part of the adult sinful life that he had seen even at an early age. The social conditions- the relationship that his parents had, the affair of his mother to his Polish uncle, and the Rise of Hitler in Germany had affected him in one way or another and had subsequently led to him making such a move. So what does this try to point out?

This tries to point out that indeed, it is inevitable that the social conditions that you lived upon and have seen and experienced firsthand- the environment, the culture, and the society always has an effect on you and on the decisions you make. It shows that no matter how young or how small a person maybe does not exclude him from experiencing such conditions that actually shows what is reality. And now, as I come to think of it, I guess the film is also showing us the harsh realities of life (even harsher since it is seen and coming from the eyes of a child).

Indeed, socialization plays a role in all our lives. No one is excluded, not even a child. We all make certain decisions once in our lives and these decisions would always reflect the socialization the we have acquired from the beginning- from the time that you were growing up, until the time that you have reached your prime.

dominic_barnachea said...

The Tin Drum is yet another one of ‘those Holocaust films’. Or so I thought.

The Story, The Challenge

The storyline, which is based on a Gunter Grass’s novel of the same title, is exceptional as it separates itself from other films set in the same anarchic backdrop of the Second World War. The added twist in the plot- a boy who decided not to, and successfully did not, ‘grow up’, and his journey into the meandering world of war, and manhood- was able to elevate the film plot’s complexity and has resulted to eyebrows being raised higher than a usual unorthodox film does.

Yet, the real challenge was in transforming what can only be imagined through reading into actual images. And here much more eyebrows were raised, and even higher. The one who played the protagonist, Oskar, whose age range in the story was from very early childhood to late 20’s, and, mind you, never grew old, was actually a child, David Bennent. This was the primary if not the sole reason of all the controversies the film created since he (Bennent) had to do some ‘scenes’ with sexy women more than thrice his age (lucky him!). As a result, it was banned from showing in a certain country. Yet, rumors and child actor’s luck aside, I think the move is very much effective since the result was a more realistic visual interpretation of the story- Oskar did not actually grow old!

The Tin Drum on the concept of Ideology

Explicitly tackling a few sociopolitical and religious concepts, and more so concepts of gender, rather surprisingly the film also portrayed through implicit symbolisms a more philosophical view on ideology and ideological formation.

The film viewed ideological formation from a more individualist standpoint- putting premium on individual perceptions of reality in the formation of an ideology. His own ideology. “From there on I decided not to grow old.” As narrated by Oskar, we see his making a very firm decision not to grow old having seen the very complicated world of adult merry-making. It shows that an ideology, a tool of viewing the world, in other words reality, is created from a conscious decision. I see adults doing very weird things. Ergo, adulthood is crazy, and complicated. Ergo, I don’t want to grow old anymore. The drive to rationalize the things that we see around us is the same drive that pushes us to create our own telescope in which to better view those things.

And from that scene onwards, the film presents yet another philosophical explanation on how formed ideologies are able to stand the test of time.

I don’t want to grow anymore. I just want to play my drum. Here we can equate Oskar’s drum to his ideology – Eternal youth to escape the complicated life of the adulthood. And if anyone tries to take away my drum I’ll just have to scream my lungs out until all the glass in the world shatters. Here it can be implied that once you firmly believe you already have a telescope to clearly view and better explain the world around you- you tend to hold onto it. Why? Maybe because of pride of having created your own telescope, or maybe because (you think) it’s the only telescope you have, so better not let anyone break it. Whether the reason is pride or fear, once people have an explanation for something, they, I, stand by it. The Earth is the center of the universe. No, it can’t be the Sun, it’s the Earth! The law of gravity proposed by some nut named Galileo is a falsehood that challenges the all powerful Heavens!

Yet, a tin drum, as with a telescope, inevitably wears out and consequently needs to be replaced with a new one sometime or another. Ideologies also need to be revitalized, if not improved, from time to time. And as for the improvement, here comes Maria the helper. She awakened the sleeping dragon, or worm (^_^), from within Oskar. And finally manhood triumphs over youth. But not totally, as Oskar decisively uses his drum to ward off enemies, and only takes it off when the coast is clear. This implies that formation of ideologies does not stop with its creation. It is a long process that involves changes, reductions and improvements.

But, as ideologies can be created, so can they be discarded in exchange for a completely new one. With the death toll finally rising to four, (including ‘Mahal’), Oskar finally decided to completely get rid of his drum and start growing old. Yet, as ideologies are relatively easier to form, discarding them is very much harder. It entails a more extensive change than the mere improvements before, and starting again from a blank slate puts you in an initial state of cluelessness, hence leaving you motionless for a period of time, which in Oskar’s case, is quite literal.

vnus said...

What was the author thinking when he said to himself, “Okay, I'll start off with the scene where Oskar narrates his experiences and thoughts as a fetus and the first things he encountered as a new born baby will be his mother's voice promising him a tin drum for his birthday...”? I just could not let this question get away from my mind unanswered. For a film and novel as cultured and highbrow as the Tin Drum, surely things would be deliberately incorporated into it not just for the sole, superficial purpose of entertainment. Later on I discovered that this magical realism employed by the film is an effective strategy of instilling to its audience its main message.
What I mean to say is that the reason why most of us thought that the idea of a fetus having consciousness and understanding and memory is proof that we are adhering to the epistemological norm of empiricism. I see this as the first deviant act of the film-- challenging our openmindedness by introducing to us a theory that only a minority associate with – the Innate Knowledge Thesis. Innate Knowledge thesis asserts the existence of knowledge gained a priori, independently of experience.
The Innate Knowledge thesis offers our rational nature. Our innate knowledge is not learned through either sense experience or intuition and deduction. It is just part of our nature. Experiences may trigger a process by which we bring this knowledge to consciousness, but the experiences do not provide us with the knowledge itself. It has in some way been with us all along. According to some rationalists, we gained the knowledge in an earlier existence. According to others, God provided us with it at creation. Still others say it is part of our nature through natural selection.(Markie, 2004) Nonetheless, I do not mean to say that the film was entirely a proponent of Innate Knowledge Thesis, in fact, it became more empiricist as it progressed. The incremental perturbation, as they coin it in Comparative Literature, of the life of Oskar (the discovery of her mother's affair with his uncle, the death of his loved-ones, Maria's affair with his father which he saw as betrayal, the disorientation brought forth by the Nazi regime overture and the war of the nations) greatly affected Oskar's growing perception of the world. The reason why he acquired the perspective that adulthood is miserable was that during a party at the outset of the film, he was exposed to the foolishness and wickedness of adults who were supposed to tell him what to do. It was the momentous event of a three-year old deciding to not grow up and knowing just exactly how to do it.
In this respect, Oskar's was a story of an individual who thought that by his knowledge(his precociousness) and his power(his high-decibel, deafening, glass-breaking shriek) he couldresist the changing society and environment and at the latter part, it was also a story of a repentance and compromise with society. Proof of it was the near-end change of heart, when Oskar decided to officially and formally leave the stage of youth at the age of 20 and step into adulthood.
Yet the way I see it, Oskar never really got to escape the norms of the society. He may have stopped growing physically but his mind, heart, and soul always grew a year older after experiencing the tribulations of life which are viewed to be the rites of passages to adulthood. And I can't say he was being mature when he thought of halting ageing as equivalent to retaining his youth and evading manhood; this misconception is highly characteristic of immaturity as a matter of fact.
The death of his father was also the time Oskar ran out of reason for not continuing to grow. He realized the imperative to take responsibility, with him as the only man left to take care of Maria and Kurt.
The act of his surrender of the symbol of his youth, his tin drum, is the finale of his childish games and youthfulness. In the end, his physiological constancy never really did him anything but lead him to the inevitable reality of impermanence and growth.

You know what they say in Biology, “If it doesn't grow, then its probably dead.”

eva marie said...

I would like to see “The Tin Drum” (Die Blechtrommel, 1979 by Volker Schlöndorff) within the prism of a psychological concept – stress. The term itself is loosely borrowed from physics. Humans, it was thought is like physical objects, such as metals, which resist moderate outside forces but lose their resiliency under great pressure. In psychological terms, “stress can be defined as the response of individuals to stressors, the circumstances and events that threaten them and tax their coping abilities” (Santrock, 2005). Let me also adopt one of the environmental factors of stress which is conflict. Two types of conflict is relevant in this film: approach/avoidance conflict which involves a stimuli or circumstance that has both negative and positive effect; and avoidance/avoidance conflict in which the individual must choose between two unattractive stimuli or circumstance (Santrock, 2005). Finally, the General Adaptation Syndrome proposed by Hans Selye consisting of the alarm-resistance-exhaustion stages of responding to stress is utilized in perceiving this movie.

I think that it would be interesting to look at how the main characters in the movie responded to stress triggered not only by the general conflict brought about by the Nazi regime but also to the social setting in Danzig and in the Matzerath household.

Our star, Oskar Matzerath was alarmed by the attitudes of the grownups and so by the age of three, he decided to stop growing in order to cope in his world. The magical realism element of the film allowed Oskar to cope with his stress rather magnificently; he escaped the responsibility of adulthood by remaining in the body of a 3-year old, he drowned the craziness around him with his tin drum, and he has a piercing voice, so high that it could literally break glass, to stop anyone from getting his tin drum away from him. However, he remains in an approach/avoidance conflict because despite these desirable effects of his coping mechanism, he became a problem to his parents and even to his teachers and their neighbors. He is also unacceptable within his peers. Towards the end of the film, his resistance reached exhaustion when he finally decided to grow up and face the consequences of leaving the protective shield of his prolonged childhood and faithful tin drum.

Oskar’s mother Agnes Matzerath moved from an approach/avoidance conflict where she maintained a passionate affair with Jan Bronski on one hand and the prospect of religious and social stigma on the other; to that of avoidance/avoidance conflict when he got pregnant with Jan’s child. She responded by eating sardines and then raw fishes which is her body repelled then finally committing suicide. She easily reached exhaustion having been used to the support of her mother and the men in her life.

Alfred Matzerath responded to the stress created by the political situation by joining the Nazi Party but it later resulted in an avoidance/avoidance conflict when the Nazi regime ended and party members were prosecuted.

Throughout the film, one adaptive character remains. Anna Koljaiczek, Oskar’s grandmother, was able to counter the many stressful circumstances in her life – the hiding of a stranger pursued by soldiers under her skirts, the disappearance of her husband, the economic recession brought by the First World War, the infidelity and the suicide of her daughter, the cruelty of the Nazi regime, her grandchildren’s departure from Danzig, and being “not quite Polish and not quite German”.

It can be observed that despite the stress offered by the environment the personality factor remain relevant in coping with the circumstances of the times. That is why; political socialization remains a confluence of agents and the receiving individual. And like Oskar, one can stubbornly resist against negative agents by building coping mechanisms. However, one can only resist so much.


Santrock, John W. (2005). Psychology, updated 7th edition. New York: Mc-Graw Hill International Edition.

Felicia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Felicia said...

The 1979 German film, “The Tin Drum”, was based on novel with the same title by Günter Grass and was directed by Volker Schlöndorff, starring David Bennent as the uncanny Oskar Matzerath, Angela Winkler as Oskar’s mother Agnes, Mario Adorf as Agnes’ husband Albert Matzerath, and Daniel Olbrychski as Agnes’ cousin and lover, and also Oskar’s real father. This writer would like to present a discussion of the movie from the perspective of the structural Marxist theory. The main thesis of this essay is that the conflict between Oskar’s personality and the real, adult world is a reflection of the multifaceted conflicts which characterized that era, particularly in Germany.

Generally, one of the focuses of the conflict theory is the issue of the institutional versus the individual behavior, according to Robert O. Keel (2007). Specifically, being encapsulated by the conflict theory itself, structural Marxism, according to Colvin and Pauly as cited by Keel, mainly asserts its propositions in terms of a child’s social deviance. The parents’ class position, compounded workplace control, leads to the alienation of parents, which contributes to a coercive family structure, which leads to the alienation of the child. This child, in turn, is more likely to be in a coercive (lower class) school environment, which leads to his or her further alienation. (Keel, 2007) In other words, the societal acts based upon the Nazi ideology corresponds to the institutional behavior, while Oskar’s individual acts corresponds to the individual behavior.

In “The Tin Drum”, Oskar’s parents, Agnes and Alfred Matzerath, both run a food shop of some sort and are seen to be of middle class status. The class position and workplace control of Oskar’s parents, comprising the adults’ social environment, affect them in such a way that they are led to conform to Nazism, especially Alfred, who even becomes a proud party member. Further, although Oskar’s parents may not have been alienated from their social environment (simply because they almost immediately chose to conform and not resist), this still contributes to a coercive family structure, in the sense that Oskar is quite distant to the man whom he looks to as his father, and instead feels closer to his uncle Jan (who is actually Oskar’s real father), who is technically outside his immediate family structure. This can be manifested in the many times when Alfred had frustratingly tried to take the tin drum from Oskar’s hands, or at least tried to make him stop striking his drum. On the other hand, Oskar’s school environment, acted coercively toward him, not only because he is a dwarf, but also because of his peculiar fixation to his drum, even in the classroom, as manifested in the scene where his teacher unsuccessfully attempted to make Oskar stop playing his drum or at least set it aside for a while so as not to disturb their class. Furthermore, his neighborhood peers, who may also be equated to the school environment since they are also his peers, have also acted coercively toward him. This is manifested in the scene wherein the neighborhood kids had made him drink their disgusting concoction of frog soup and urine out of sheer fun. The coercive attitude of his family (especially his father) and his peers reinforced Oskar’s alienation, not only as a child but also as a “little person”, which, in turn, pushes him to be more suspicious, spiteful and manipulative, as a form of defense. In fact, among the many indications in the film, Oskar even projected his father’s seemingly coercive, but definitely aggressive, behavior towards the image of the infant Jesus in the scene at church, where his mother tagged him along while she went to confession. However, instead of coercing him to stop playing the drum like his father did, Oskar tried to coerce the image of the infant Jesus to play the drum, which of course, it cannot do since the religious image is obviously inanimate; so he taunts the image, slaps it, and even threw a tantrum at church. This alienation is the consequence of such coercive family and peers.
However, Oskar’s socialization does not stop at his mere alienation and resulting behavioral reinforcements, he acted upon these forces and resolved to resist them, hence, his incessant drumming and pierce shrieking, which were translated as a kind of wielded power, to counter the threat that his coercive family structure and peers had sent to him. And since his decision to stop growing was upon the discovery of the cruel, hypocritical and decadent grown-up world, Oskar, therefore, represents youth (although not necessarily childhood), dwarfism, and being a nominally German Aryan (Oskar is qualified to be only such because, as Alfred Matzerath is indeed German, Oskar’s real father, Jan Bronski, is, after all, Polish). In other words, the conflicts that are present here are that of youth versus adulthood, dwarf people versus “normal people”, and German Aryans versus Poles and Jews. As the conflict of youth versus adulthood has already been established in the above paragraph in terms of the Oskar’s character, the other conflicts are now to be discussed. As for dwarf people and “normal people” (height-wise), Oskar was socialized in these terms by Bebra and the rest of circus midget troop, with whom he went around Europe with for a while to campaign the war effort. This socialization is best captured by the conversation Bebra had with Oskar, saying that they (referring to dwarf people) must always strive to be at the center of the public as much as they can, or else the “big people” would take over. This remark by Bebra implies power relations imposed upon their kind, in the sense that they must symbolically resist such domination and thus, struggle for that power by always being in the limelight of the circus, where the “big people” applaud them. And finally, the conflict between the German Aryans and the Poles and Jews was reflected in the persecution of the Jewish toymaker, Sigismund Markus, and the overall sorry state of Danzig during the rise of Nazism, which is, in turn, symbolized by Oskar’s stunted growth. This interracial conflict also characterizes the adult world which Oskar had intended to avoid: oppressive and irrationally divided. Glenn Erickson even claimed that “Oskar narrates the film as if he were the spirit of his country”. In fact, this is manifested in the scene wherein Oskar kept on striking his drum, disrupting a Nazi rally in Danzig, causing the band to switch from playing a marching theme to playing the “Blue Danube”, making the crowd suddenly broke from the rigid lines and started waltzing; the rains later effectively placed the final touches and ruined what would have been a hate-filled Nazi rally.

In closing, “The Tin Drum” is indeed an effective instrument for political socialization because it offers a representation of the Nazi years from the perspective of an Aryan youth who has developed a distaste for the Nazi ideology from the start, deeming the Nazi era as another one of the contradictions and perversions of the real, adult world.


__________. World Film Classics: The Tin Drum. The Horrors of Fascism and Suicide By Eels. Date retrieved: 26 August 2007. From:

Erickson, Glenn. The Tin Drum. Date retrieved: 26 August 2007. From:

Keel, Robert O. Conflict Theory(ies) of Deviance. Date published: 19 March 2007. Date retrieved: 26 August 2007. From:

jeejee said...

In The Tin Drum, youth is the core idea. How external factors such as society, family, and the war affected Oskar was the most evident point. But from a pejorative point of view, I think Oskar has just used his youth in order to escape reality: the reality of the beginning of Nazi Germany, the reality of the trouble of finding belongingness for himself, the reality that wickedness surrounds him. He chose to discontinue his growth in order for him not to experience the reality which he perceived to be “evil” since the moment of his birth. However, preventing his growth did not actually prevent him from experiencing the cruelties of reality. For one, he still experienced the terrors brought about by the Nazi Germany; he was still corrupted when he saw his mother having an affair with his uncle, he was appalled by the suicide of his mother, and for the first time, he got his heart broken. The belief that the discontinuity of his physical growth would actually help him escape reality in fact help him achieved his inner growth. But opting to stop his growth (physically) reflected not just his flight from reality, as well as the artistry in him.

On his third birthday, he was given a drum. And this drum was his outlet in a sense that every time something he doesn’t like happens or does not go his way, he would pour out his emotions in it to the point where he would scream at the top of his voice and this voice has the capability to actually break glasses.

The escape from reality and the conveyed artistry is manifested through the playing of the drum plus the powerful screaming that breaks glasses. There was a scene in which the Nazi party was marching and his drumming sort of misaligned the rhythm of the drums, Oskar plays a rhythm which is more complex and sensual than the march of the rally. Another was his voice. As a substitution for singing, Oskar's voice is a terrible scream which exerts incredible power. These two characteristics of Oskar conveys artistry amidst war, and amidst the diverse conflicts that surrounds him.

At a certain point he found the belongingness in the dwarf people that presents to the Germans in the front line. He found comfort with Roswitha. And eventually established emotional and physical relationships with her. But the death of his beloved made him come back to the home he left and realized that growth is not confined to physical growth alone. But to other aspects of one’s self as well.

abeleda said...

Up to a point, I would have to agree with the presenter that ‘youth’ was utilized by the movie “the Tin Drum” as an ideological signifier to counter threats. After all, didn’t Oskar decide not to grow up at age 3, when he started to feel threatened by the vicissitudes of the world of the grown-ups? He must have wanted to shield himself from all that, to go hiding in his grandma’s skirt, so to speak. But I agree only up to a certain point. Because, if this was the entire point of the film, to go hiding behind his childlike appearance, then it wouldn’t be about that belligerent Oskar Matzerath, now would it?

In the same scene where Oskar decides to stop growing, he did not say he wants to stay as a precocious child forever (like Peter Pan), what he said was that he wanted to be a ‘gnome’. And I think this remark, overlooked by many, is the key in understanding how Oskar behaved subsequently. And how this film should be appreciated.

Oskar continued to get old despite not growing an inch since age 3. He was an unlikable brat who wants to get what he wants at all costs. He also unleashes a destructive shriek whenever his wants are not fulfilled. He was infuriatingly wicked. He was a gnome.

Parallel to Oskar’s decision not to grow is the rise of Nazism in Germany. Nazism became the brat that gets what it wants at all costs. It also reeks not just of bigotry and single-mindedness in trying to eliminate Jews and extol the supposedly superior Aryan race but also vengefulness and therefore wreaks havoc on all who opposes its goals. Nazism was decidedly evil. Nazism is a malevolent gnome.

“The Tin Drum” spits in our collective faces. It is a political satire that does not pull any punches and that does not make it easy to watch. Thus we were made to witness Oskar screaming atavistically in the cathedral, we see worm-like eels in a horse’s head, Oskar’s mother gorging herself with raw fish to abort a child, Oskar having sex with teen-age Maria---a scene I believe, designed to drive home the point that Oskar was, narrative-wise, not a child anymore---and Alfred Matzerath choking on a Nazi pennant.

(On the minus side, I feel that the sarcastic overtones lost steam somewhere in the middle with the stretched-out sex and spitting scenes with Maria that did not really help in moving the story along.)

The sarcasm only picked up steam again when Oskar decided to join Bebra’s Frontline Theatre. A paradox ensues: entertainment as a source of repugnance. When Oskar inscribes a heart-shape scrawl onto the wine glass held by midget Roswithe Raguna, for instance, we laugh tentatively at the absurdity of it all. But deep inside we know we shouldn’t laugh because it was the Nazi’s entertainment and everything emanating from them is contaminated, if not corrupted.

Thus, the movie appears to have that rare quality of fiction: it makes us “nervous”. It makes us nervous because it’s quite unlike other films of the same genre. It isn’t your run-of-the-mill Nazi movie where the lines between the good and evil are clearly demarcated. The Nazi may be bad but why are we laughing at Bebra and company? Why are our thoughts with the unlikable protagonist, Oskar Matzerath? The movie is like the waves on rocks at the seashore: it caresses then slaps our face, then it caresses again. It spits in our face and we like it, somehow. Because what it tells, despite its propensity for exaggeration (not magic realism, I beg to differ) is the story of humanity. Yes, we may forsake malevolent gnome that Nazism represented but we can never deny it was part of who we are now.