Cynthia Ozick's "The Shawl"

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The setting of this story is in a concentration camp. The story takes place during the war when the Nazi's ruled all Jews. The tone is of a serious nature. The reader does not know the lives of the characters before they were captured, only of the where they are going. The lives, or lack of life, of the three main characters is hopeless and terminal. They are existing briefly to survive another day, although death may be welcomed. The style is normal, with a third-person point of view. Ozick tells of how the characters are feeling, and what they are thinking and experiencing.

The three main characters are Stella, Magda and Rosa, the mother of the two girls. Rosa continually tries to hid Magda, who is just a baby, in a shawl wrapped around her bosom. She feels the shawl is a “magic shawl”, for it “nourished” Magda and kept her warm. It could nourish an infant for three days and three nights. As long as Magda had the shawl, she would stay alive. Stella, being the oldest daughter and in her teens, did not care or try to understand why Magda must be kept hidden or why she got to keep the shawl. Stella was cold and wanted the shawl for herself. This could be symbolic of how mankind can really be: selfish and cold without care for one another.

The reader is led to believe that it is a Jewish concentration camp because of the time setting. The bad wind with pieces of black it it, could possibly be ashes from cremated dead bodies. Rosa also had a yellow star sewn to the inside of her jacket; a marking that identified the Jews. Also, Ozick wrote a companion story to “The Shawl” describing Rosa's experiences after surviving the death camp.

The living situation was unbearable. The prisoners had very little food and water, and suffered with lice and rats. The reader knows the characters are starving because of their “pencil legs”, and Stella's knees that were tumors on sticks, and elbows that were chicken bones. Stella and Rosa did not menstruate...
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