Katz und Maus; Cat and Mouse

Katz und Maus; Cat and Mouse (1961)This novella tells the story of Joachim Mahlke, a teenager with an excessively large Adam’s apple. This causes him to be bullied and subjected to ridicule. Mahlke wears various objects around his neck in an attempt to direct attention away from his Adam’s apple: a screwdriver, a necklace with the Virgin Mary, pompoms. He wants to become a clown so that he can control other people’s laughter, rather than being the passive object of ridicule. When an officer of the Luftwaffe gives a speech at the school, Mahlke becomes fixated on the iron cross worn by the officer. If only Mahlke could wear such a cross, and make such a speech, surely that would more than compensate for his shameful neck. Soon afterwards, Mahlke steals an iron cross and is expelled from school.

The narrator, Pilenz, stalks Mahlke like a cat stalks a mouse. As Kevin Hilliard points out (see reading list below), the characters are made for each other: Pilenz’s function is to observe, Mahlke’s function is to perform and be observed.

Pilenz’s ambivalent, twisted feelings towards Mahlke make Pilenz one of the most interesting unreliable narrators in modern German literature. Pilenz is very reluctant to talk about himself: we do not even discover his name until Chapter 8, when he says dismissively ‘what has my first name got to do with it?’. This means that we as readers must piece things together. Is the compulsive, repetitive narration a confession, or is it a strange extension of the cat and mouse game Pilenz played as a youth? The narrative switches frequently between the narrated events and the post-war time of narration, suggesting that the past continues to shape the present.

Further Reading in English

Leonard Duroche, ‘Günter Grass’s Cat and Mouse and the Phenomenology of Masculinity’, in Fictions of Masculinity: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Sexualities, ed. by Peter F. Murphy (New York: New York University Press, 1994), pp. 74-95

Kevin Hilliard, ‘Showing, Telling and Believing: Günter Grass’s Katz und Maus and Narratology’, Modern Language Review 96 (2001), 420-36

Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘Narration as Repetition: The Case of Günter Grass’s Cat and Mouse’, in Discourse in Psychoanalysis and Literature, ed. by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 176-97

David Roberts, ‘The Cult of the Hero: An Interpretation of Katz und Maus’, German Life and Letters 29 (1976), 307-22

Judith Ryan, ‘Resistance and Resignation: A Re-interpretation of Günter Grass’s Katz und Maus’, Germanic Review 52 (1977), 148-65

Martin Swales, ‘The Cultishness of the Times: Günter Grass’, in Martin Swales, Studies of German Prose Fiction in the Age of European Realism (Lewiston and Lampeter: Mellen, 1995), pp. 213-28

Further Reading in German

Detlef Krumme, ‘Der suspekte Erzähler und sein suspekter Held: Überlegungen zur Novelle Katz und Maus’, in Zu Günter Grass: Geschichte auf dem poetischen Prüfstand, ed. by Manfred Durzak (Stuttgart: Klett, 1985), pp. 65-79

Alexander Ritter, Günter Grass: Katz und Maus, Erläuterungen und Dokumente (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1900)

For more recommended reading in English, please refer to the reading list on the Günter Grass main page above