The draft for the cover of the first edition of The Tin Drum shows Oskar's merciless, piercing gaze. The irisless eye of Oskar is directed at the observer, who in turn becomes an object under scrutiny. In the final version of the cover design, Oskar's eye is blue as Grass describes it in the first chapter of the novel: „Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is a shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.“
Oskar Matzerath, the main character of Grass's debut novel The Tin Drum (1959), deliberately stopped growing when he was three years old and took up drumming out of protest against the corruption of the adult world. Despite the innocent naivety he assumes toward the offenses of his surrounding, he is equally guilty: He prefers to simply observe the events rather than ask questions or intervene to offer support. When the toy store of the Jewish businessman Sigismund Markus is destroyed, Oskar's only concern are his beloved tin drums.
The colors of the red-and-white tin drum allude to the city arms of Grass's hometown Gdansk. The cover design, by contrast, is characterized by broken outlines and a busy layout, thus highlighting Oskar Matzerath's destructive potential that prevents him from being categorized into any ideology or customary norms and moral values.