Compare and contrast Hannah and Chaya in The Devil's Arithmetic.

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hannah spends much of The Devil’s Arithmetic in the role of Chaya.  The two characters have both similarities and differences. 

First, let us discuss the differences.  Hannah is a girl from the present day (or at least from the 1980s when the book was written).  Chaya is a girl from the 1940s.  As a Jewish person, Hannah is generally safe in the time she was born.  Chaya is not safe.  In fact, Chaya is forced into a concentration camp and witnesses many atrocities before she sacrifices herself for her friend.  Hannah is annoyed, at best, with her Jewish heritage and many of the customs associated with it.  The reader finds this out during the Seder meal of Passover at the beginning of the book. Chaya, however, finds pride in her Jewish heritage and allows it to inspire her bravery.

The similarities of the two characters are, perhaps, more important than the differences.  Hannah and Chaya are both Jewish.  Due to Hannah’s reverie where she is transported in time back to the Holocaust, Hannah quite literally “becomes” Chaya.  They both are forced to board the train.  They both are tattooed and shaved.  They both do backbreaking work.  They both witness numerous atrocities.  They both become attached to a friend named Rivka.  As a result of these experiences, they both decide to sacrifice their own lives for Rivka.  When Rivka is forced into the gas chamber, it is Hannah (playing the part of Chaya) who tells Rivka to run and takes Rivka’s place.  It is only when Hannah walks into that darkness of death that she is transported back to the present time.  Therefore, Hannah becomes as brave as Chaya by the end of the novel and becomes a hero of the Holocaust.  Thus, Hannah learns to become more like Chaya during the course of The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Read the study guide:
The Devil's Arithmetic

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question