Regarding the 1979 Oscar winning movie The Tin Drum, is there an explanation for Oscar's mother's death?

Agnes is officially married to Alfred, but she has an ongoing affair with her cousin Jan - Alfred probably knows that, but for some strange reason he doesn't mind (Oscar as narrator mentions that Alfred and Jan were really, really good friends... take it however you want). Oscar even notices at one stage, that "he has blue eyes like uncle Jan, not brown like mom and dad", which would suggest that Jan is Oscar's real father (although kids eye colour can change over time).

Now, we have few scenes that lead to Agnes death :

  1. We can see that Agnes and Jan have sex.
  2. Agnes, Alfred and Jan go for a walk on the beach and see a fisherman fishing eels using rotting cow's head - Agnes gets sick looking at it.
  3. Agnes is very upset at the dinner with her husband (we later find out that she is pregnant, presumably with her cousin Jan). Her husband tries to convince her to eat eels - she initially refuses, then after an argue she eats them all.
  4. Alfred is getting worried - Agnes eats only fish, which makes her sick. We can see Agnes eating fish straight from a can, then running to the toilet.
  5. Agnes is dead - we can see her funeral, both Jan and Alfred are devastated.

So I could assume that Oscar's mother make herself sick purposefully in hope to either lose the unwanted child or to kill herself - if indeed the fish diet was the cause of her death (or was it something else?). But why would she do that? It seems that all three of them were quite happy in current arrangement and Alfred would probably accept Jan's child as his own (as he probably done with Oscar). Was she simply sick of living in such weird ménage à trois?

  • 1
    A possible explanation, though this is related to the book: shmoop.com/tin-drum/agnes-oskars-mother.html
    – BCdotWEB
    Feb 10, 2018 at 16:06
  • @BCdotWEB well since it is a book adaptation and it matches my thoughts in this matter, I'd be happy to accept this as an answer, If you'd care to create one.
    – Yasskier
    Feb 13, 2018 at 21:39

2 Answers 2


The source novel indicates that the doctor diagnosed her illness as "jaundice and fish poisoning". Based on her actions earlier in the chapter (compulsively eating poorly cooked fish and eels), we can surmise that this was the result of a craving-related feeding disorder that can onset during early pregnancy known as 'pica'.

Dr. Hollatz spoke of jaundice and fish poisoning. At the hospital they discovered that Mama was three months pregnant and gave her a private room, and for four days she showed those of us allowed to visit her a face devastated by pain and nausea, a nausea through which she sometimes smiled at me.

Her ultimate cause of death was likely liver failure and organ damage from ingesting fish toxins or just plain food poisoning from eating poorly cooked fish..


Maybe she was afraid that this child will be not so healthy like Oscar? Because i believe Oscar stopped growing, wasnt talking too much because his mother had him with her cousin. Which makes blood relative... and she was afraid what can be with another child...

  • Oscar has stopped growing because of the accident when he has hit himself really hard in the head (at least everyone, including his mother believes so).
    – Yasskier
    Apr 13, 2021 at 23:26

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