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“Then Stella took the shawl away and made Magda die.”
The horrors found in “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick culminate in man’s inhumanity to man. During World War II, the Nazis removed people from their homes and possessions. Many times, they also took their lives, particularly if the family were Jewish. Usually, the family was initially placed in a concentration camp far from their countries.
The characters in this story include a trio of females--Rosa, the older girl; her baby, Magda; and Stella, Rosa’s fourteen year old niece—who have walked a long way from their home in a cold march toward the destination of a concentration camp.
Normally, Magda would have already been killed. The Nazis immediately killed all small babies; however, Rosa hid her baby in a large shawl that she wore over her shoulder. From the shawl, Rosa could feed Magda and allow the baby to sleep without being noticed.
Horror abounds in the story.
The beginning of the terror
Rosa’s milk dries up, and she teaches Magda to suck on the corners of the shawl for comfort. No one touches the shawl but Magda and her mother.
Rosa often saw Stella staring at Magda as though she would like to kill her and eat her thighs.
Rosa kept Magda alive for fifteen months in the barracks.
Magda learns to walk; Rosa knew then that Magda did not have long to live.
Stella constantly complained about hunger. Stella’s heart was cold as well as her body.
Finally, Stella steals Magda’s shawl without Rosa’s knowledge.
The final terror
Looking for her shawl, Magda goes outside into the area where the Nazi soldiers can see her. Rosa heard Magda for the first time yell out:
‘Maaaaaaa---‘ and again ‘Maaaaaa…aaa!’
Rosa hurries into the barracks looking for the shawl to lure Magda back inside. Stella was sleeping under Magda’s shawl. Rosa jerks it off and runs to the door to show Magda.
Rosa comes out into the open air. The ironic vision she sees through the electrified fence is flowers, butterflies. She could hear the hum of the electricity going through the fence.
Magda was slung over a soldier’s shoulder with her arms held out toward her mother. The soldier was taking Magda in the other direction. Rosa could see a glimmer of light reflecting off of the soldier’s helmet that carried her baby. She could hear Magda’s cries: Maaamaa.
The black uniformed soldier continues walking down past twelve barracks. Rosa could barely see Magda now. Without warning, the soldier flung Magda up into the air. To Rosa, she looked like a butterfly. She could see her feathered blonde hair and ballooned stomach as it sprawled out and crashed into the fence.
The sounds of the electric fence went crazy as the fence burned the flesh of the baby. When she could see Magda’s body again, it was just burned sticks. Rosa wanted to go and pick up her baby.
In her heart, she knew that the soldiers would shoot and kill her. She stuffed Magda’s shawl in her mouth preventing the screams in her throat from emerging. Rosa sucked on the shawl tasting Magda and drinking up the juices of her child.
The mother must now live forever with the horrific vision of seeing her child electrocuted. Her niece began the end of Magda. How would she ever forgive Stella?
The Nazis exemplified the motif: man in certain circumstances is capable of treating his fellow man with extreme cruelty and evil. With no feeling at all, a mother loses her beloved child forever.
The brutal details of paragraph
15 reveal the horror of life in the extermination camps. A short description of World War II and some of the facts of the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis may need explaining now that the war has been over for more than sixty years. The story itself, however, provides a telling description of what the effects of these policies were as the victims themselves were forced to experience them. These details noit only prove how horrible the policies of Germany were, but basically how contemptuous people can be towars one another.
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