Cynthia Ozick’s is a Jewish- American writer and the author of “The Shawl”. This is one of many works by the author that succeeds in its attempt to convey the chilling terror that Jews faced in during the Holocaust. The focus of this narrative is a woman, Rosa, whom idolatrously worships the memory of her infant daughter who was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. For this Ozick is criticized for two reasons: one, bringing contradiction to between writing fiction and obeying Jewish law; which forbids the creation of idols, and two, for not actually going through the Holocaust herself. Through different symbolic representations—the shawl, which has a double meaning, and Magda’s death—Ozick’s focuses on the struggles that the Jewish community in Europe had to endure during the Holocaust.
The shawl, that carries Magda, becomes a mother when Rosa is unable to fulfill he motherly duties. Since her mother is unable to produce milk “ The duct crevice extinct, a dead volcano, blind eye, chill hole” Magda turns to the shawl to gain nourishment “She sucked and sucked, flooding the threads with wetness. The shawl’s good flavor, milk of linen” (Orzick 3). Although the shawl’s main purpose is giving nourishment it also conceals Magda from the Nazi’s on the march to the concentration camp. During the march Rosa has Magda “buried away deep inside the magic shawl… No one took it away from her” (Ozick 6). It seems like a magical shawl that nourishes the baby, providing sustenance–the only sustenance in the absence of the mother’s milk (Krupnick 129)–in a place of ultimate darkness.
The shawl also symbolizes some aspects of divinity. In the text the narrator describes the smell of the shawl as cinnamon and almond “A peculiar smell, of cinnamon and almonds, lifted out of her mouth” (Ozick 4). Cinnamon and almond are part of the scared anointing oil in Scripture and a cyclical symbol of divine approval. At this point, for Rosa, Magda becomes a “holy babe”...
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