In an organized and well-supported answer, write a formal explication in which you discuss the following topics from the story, The Shawl, by Cynthia Ozick:
A) Identify and discuss the basic theme of the story, The Shawl.
B) Then explain the imagery of the work and show how it works to develop the theme. Remember that imagery includes descriptive language, sensory language, metaphors, and similes.
C) Then explain any symbols and how they work to support the theme.
Be wary of finding symbols where none exists. A northern tempest, for example, does not symbolize cold, windy weather because a northern tempest is cold, windy weather. It may, however, stand for approaching disaster, for example, because this type of weather often brings with it storms of considerable force. Such an interpretation, of course, must be in accord with the theme and imagery of the poem; therefore, you must argue logically and present sufficient details to support your contention of symbolic content.
Use textual evidence from only the story to support your answer.
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Cynthia Ozick, in The Shawl, provides the reader with a third person, omniscent and deeply moving account of Rosa, Magda and Stella's existence as they endure unspeakable misery at the hands of "a pair of black boots," the only real description of the recognizable enemy. The story takes place during World War II, in "a place without pity," the girls obviously victims of the devastation caused by the Holocaust. Magda, the baby, is different, with her hair, "as yellow as the star sewn into Rosa's coat" and the irony is not lost on the reader as Magda could have been "one of their babies," inferring that, although Rosa, her mother, is Jewish, Magda is the result of a rape by a German soldier, almost making her "Aryan."
Survival is a main theme of The Shawl and the girls must pay a high price just to perpetuate their suffering. Stella "took the shawl away and made Magda die," reveals the conflict that the characters unconsciously resolve; Magda's death. Stella's actions indicate that she has lost all hope and "the cold went into her heart," leaves the reader in no doubt that Stella has given up. Cold symbolizes death; whether it be Magda's actual death, caused by the fact that she is no longer concealed by her shawl and is "grieving" its loss, or Stella's gradual and almost unnoticed acceptance of her fate which is revealed to the reader in the fact that, after she takes the shawl, she is "always cold, always."
Roas's determination and her attempts to prevent Magda's death reveal her courage but also the hopelessness of the situation, the real and the imagined and the ultimate contradiction contained in the short story.
When Rosa fetches the shawl from Stella, the reader is transported to a better place, "another life," one where there are butterflies and the light is "placid and mellow." It is as if Rosa emerges from the "dark," having "tore" the shawl away from Stella and can envision herself free from the oppression, represented by the "steel fence." The differences between the barracks and the world outside is also highlighted as Rosa considers the "meadows" compared with the "bitter, fatty floating smoke," that pervades their space. These words support the theme of survival and show Rosa's resilience and determination and how desperate she is.
Flight, "floating" and "air" are representative of some kind of release, or even escape, mentioned at the beginning and which give Rosa some hope that her baby will survive as she "dreamed of giving Magda away." It is expounded upon at the end when Magda, "looked like a butterfly" (a simile in itself) as she was thrown at the fence. This shows Rosa's confusion. The extending of the metaphor, as Magda has "fallen from her flight," should reinforce the idea of escape but instead the reader is more drawn to the effects it has on Rosa, left behind, unable to move for fear of being shot. It is Rosa who has effectively "fallen." There is also confusion in the mixing of metaphors as now Magda is "swimming through the air," not flying and "splashed against the fence," creating a new image for the reader.
The Shawl gives the reader many opportunities to consider the effects of the Holocaust on the survivors and what they may have done or may not have done. The story draws the reader in and exposes some of the realities and the fact that it is a very personal story for each and every one of them.
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