Discuss the lack of setting details provided by the author in "The Shawl" by Cynthia Ozick.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick, there are two settings in the story: the road that the women walk on toward the concentration camp and then, the camp. Both of the settings play an important role in the lives of the characters. 

In most stories, the setting plays an important role.  It determines the time period, the weather, the historical era, and location.  The setting serves as a backdrop for the characters and the events that impact their lives. 

The setting of this story lacks in-depth description.  It is assumed by the author that the reader can fill in the images of the actual places in his mind. 

The path to despair begins with the wintry road on which the women walk through villages. Rosa fantasizes about giving her infant Magda to one of the villagers to save her.  Little description is given, but the reader can see and feel the cold as the women march toward the death camp. 

The concentration camp’s depiction includes little actual images.  However, there is insight into the horror of the camp:

They were in a place without pity, all pity was annihilated in Rosa, she looked at Stella’s bones without pity.  She was sure that Stella was waiting for Magda to die so she could put her teeth into her little thighs. 

When Stella warms herself with the shawl, she begins a chain of events that leads to her baby cousin's death. She steals the shawl that was the most important thing in Magda’s life. Magda searches for the shawl and ends up outside the actual barracks. 

The writer provides the square outside the barracks with the most imagery. This is the place of death for little Magda. The area is filled with sunlight and Rosa calls the area an arena.

There was an electrified fence and, on the other side of the fence, there was a beautiful meadow with many kinds of flowers. The fence hums with its electricity. No more description is needed because Magda is thrown into the fence and electrocuted while her mother is forced to watch, never able to scream or run to her daughter's body.

The setting is ultimately important because nothing in the story would have occurred if the characters were placed somewhere else.  The details of the setting were primarily left to the imagination with the author assuming that through television and historical movies the reader would have a visual of the camp in their mind’s eye.