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Cynthia Ozick’s “The Shawl” Essay

1) Describe how Ozick presents the setting. Why do you not receive a clear picture of how things look? Why does Ozick present the details as she does?
The story begins with three people walking along a road, a mother holding her infant child, and a small child walking along side her. From Ozick’s description of both the mother, Rosa, and the young child walking beside her, Stella, the reader quickly learns that their journey has been unkind, leaving them feeble and hungry. Ozick explains that Rosa can “no longer feel hunger,” and describes Stella’s emaciated condition by comparing her bones to “chicken bones.” In the second paragraph is the reader given a sense of the circumstances surrounding the characters when Ozick describes the baby’s hair as, “smooth feathers…nearly as yellow as the Star sewn on Rosa’s coat.”

By omitting certain details in the story, Ozick creates a sense of uncertainty for the reader. One possible reason for this approach is to convey the uncertainty experienced by Rosa and Stella as to what awaited them at the end of their death march. 2) In paragraph 15, what is on the other side of the fence? Explain Ozick’s description here. Why does Ozick include these details so close the the story’s end? Just beyond the fence lies a serene meadow “speckled with dandelions and deep-colored violets.” Ozick is contrasting the beauty of the meadow with the cruelty that Rosa and millions of others suffered from the hands of the Nazi’s.

3) What character is the center of interest in “The Shawl?” Why is she being treated as she is? What are her impressions of the conditions and circumstances around her? What are her responses to her hunger and deprivation?

The story centers around Rosa, a mother trying to care for her infant child while imprisoned in a concentration camp. Rosa, although starving herself, gives what little food she receives to her baby, Magda.

4) Explain the function of the more unpleasant and brutal details. What do you need to know about the circumstances of the story to respond to these details? The brutality of Magda’s death highlights the senseless inhumanity of the actions perpetuated by one human being against another.

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