Places: Cat and Mouse

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Katz und Maus, 1961 (English translation, 1963)

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: World War II

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Danzig

*Danzig Cat and Mouse (DAN-zik). Polish city (now known as Gdansk) on the Baltic that was occupied by Nazi Germany during the time in which this novella is set. Grass re-creates the city of his youth by using such specific place names as Osterzeile and Westerzeile, streets in a working-class neighborhood. Here, look-alike, one-family homes with copycat yards illustrate the sterile, conformist society easily conquered by National Socialism.

*Neufahrwasser Harbor

*Neufahrwasser Harbor (noy-FAHR-wahser). Danzig harbor near which the Rybitwa, a partially submerged Polish minesweeper, provides the major setting for the story’s action. The ship’s bridge, which rises above the surface of the water, covered by rust and gull droppings, illustrates the long-lasting destructiveness of war. Joachim Mahlke, a Danzig schoolboy, and his schoolmates spend their summers playing on and swimming around the ship’s bridge. Mahlke brings his prized possessions, an assortment of religious items and cultural artifacts, from his dry attic room to the ship’s radio room. The narrator sees this transfer of possessions as an act of absurd and “deliberate destructiveness.” The minesweeper becomes the last refuge for Mahlke after his rejection by his school’s principal.


*Conradinum (kohn-rahd-EEN-um). Mahlke’s school, whose neogothic windows infuse its gymnasium and dressing room, dubbed the “Sacristy,” with a “mystical light.” The new martial religion as preached by the returning war heroes stands in contrast to the school’s humanistic foundation. The appearances of the returning heroes foster Mahlke’s desire to win the Knight’s Cross.

St. Mary’s Chapel

St. Mary’s Chapel. Converted gymnasium, which, in contrast to the school, has bright lights and lacks the “mystical light” and is rendered impotent by wartime Danzig.

BibliographyCunliffe, W. Gordon. Günter Grass. New York: Twayne, 1969. This basic study places Grass’s work in its historical and political context. Includes one chapter on Cat and Mouse.Hayman, Ronald. Günter Grass. New York: Methuen, 1985. A survey of Grass’s work that places Cat and Mouse in the context of Grass’s aesthetic ideas and emphasizes the unreliable narrator. Also compares the text to other works by German writers who have focused on the clown archetype.Keele, Alan Frank. Understanding Günter Grass. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988. This general study of Grass’s work examines Cat and Mouse primarily as a political allegory, drawing parallels between Mahlke and Germany, as well as between Pilenz and Grass himself.Lawson, Richard H. Günter Grass. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985. This survey of Grass’s work includes a chapter on Cat and Mouse that discusses the text from a variety of perspectives. Includes a good discussion of the novella genre and traces the quest motif in the work.Reddick, John. The Danzig Trilogy of Günter Grass: A Study of “The Tin Drum,” “Cat and Mouse,” and “Dog Years.” London: Secker and Warburg, 1975. A good in-depth study of Cat and Mouse that examines the structure, imagery, setting, themes, and symbols of the work and relates it to the other elements of the Danzig trilogy.
Categories: Places