Gunter Grass Essay, Research Paper
Gunter Grass is a German poet, novelist, playwright, sculptor, and printmaker. Grass describes himself as a “Spataufklarer”, a belated apostle of enlightenment in an era that has grown tired of reason (“Gunter”). He was born in Danzig, Germany (currently Gdansk, Germany) on October 16, 1927. Grass wrote his first unpublished novel when he was only thirteen. Like many teenagers during World War II, Grass was a member of the Hitler Youth. He served under Luftwaffe when he was drafted at age sixteen. Grass was wounded and became a prisoner of war under American forces, but he survived. After the war, he worked as an apprentice to a stone cutter and as a drummer. From 1944-1946 he was also a farm laborer and a miner.
Gunter Grass studied art in Dusseldorf. He supported himself by dealing in the Black Market. Grass was also a tombstone cutter, and he played in a jazz band. He used the little free time that he had to write, spending his earlier years writing mostly plays. Grass’s plays were said to have been “absurd” and “approaching aesthetic nonsense (Wilpert 308).” He started using the influence of Bertolt Brecht and wrote his most popular and most controversial play, The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising: A German Tragedy.
Grass studied in West Berlin at the academy of Fine Arts in 1948. He made many journeys to Italy, France, and Spain in the 1950’s. In 1954 he married Anna Margareta Schwartz. Grass settled in West Berlin in the early 1960’s. In 1978 he divorced Schwartz, and only a year later he married Ute Grunert.
In 1955 Gunter became a member of Gruppe 47, he later described it in one of his books. The writers’ association encouraged him, and he started to produce his poems and plays. His first poetry was published in 1956 and he produced his first play in 1957. In 1956, he went to Paris, it was there where he wrote Die Blechtrommel, translated to Tim Drum. This was his first and most famous novel. The novel is a distorted exaggeration of Grass’s own life in Danzig. This fact-based novel depicts the Nazification of average German families. The story tells of the postwar “economic miracle.” Tin Drum has been translated into all major European languages and is well known all around the world. In 1979 they made his novel into a movie.
Many of the novels that Grass is well known for are politically based, though it appears that he virtually ignores the Holocaust and the experiences of the Jews. He wrote Ortlich Belaubt (Local Anaesthetic) which was a protest against the Vietnam War. Grass later wrote Katz and Maus (Cat and Mouse) and the epic novel Hundejahre (Dog Years) along with Tim Drum formed a trilogy set in Danzig. He wrote a fable showing life from the Stone Ages until today about the war between the sexes called Der Butt (The Flounder). Grass also wrote of a hypothetical “Gruppe 1647” meeting of author at the close of the Thirty Years War, Das Treffen in Telgte (The Meeting at Telgte). (“Grass, Gunter”) His most touching novel, Kopfgeburten: oder die Deutschen sterben aus (Headbirths: or, The Germans are Dying), told of a pregnant couple who had to decide whether or not they should have their child if it was only going to be born into the threat of a nuclear war. As an artist Grass also does the illustrating for the covers of many of his books.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s Grass started to write in areas other then Germany. He wrote on feminism, the art of cooking, and ecology. He later returned to writing about Germany. From 1986-1987 Grass lived in India, which he wrote a book about. Grass’s most recent novel, Ein Weites Feld (A Broad Field) was about Germany’s reunification in 1990. The novel got bad reviews and was said to be “misconstructed” and “unreadable” by German critics. Most of Germany disliked this novel for its unequivocal condemnation of the country’s past, present, and future.
Grass has been a long-time participant in Social Democratic Party politics in West Berlin. He has always been fighting for social and literary causes. He is usually opposed and ridiculed for his standings. He has published many political speeches and essays in which he has advocated a Germany free from fanaticism and totalitarian ideologies (“Grass”). A British author, Salman Rushidie, called Grass, “The greatest European novelist of the second half of the century.” He is considered Germany’s best known, postwar writer.
Throughout his lifetime Grass has received many awards and prizes, among these are the Preis der Gruppe 47 in 1958, “Le meilleur livre etranger” in 1962, the Buchner Prize in 1965, the Fontane Prize in 1968, Premio Internazionale Mondello in 1977, the Alexander-Majakowski Medal in 1979, the Antonio-Feltrinelli Prize in 1982, and the GroBer Literaturpreis der Bayerischen Akademie in 1994. Grass has also received doctorates from Kenyon College and the Universities of Harvard, Poznan, and Gdansk (“Grass”). He was also elected President of Berlin Academy of Arts and served for three years.
In October of 1999 the seventy-one-year-old writer received the Nobel Prize for his achievements in the literary category. His strong political standings, which are often unpopular, prevented him from getting this well deserved award earlier. Grass is still writing and speaking to this day.