In The Devil's Arithmetic, how does Hannah change from the beginning to the end?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Devil’s Arithmetic is a coming-of-age story (otherwise known as a bildungsroman) in that the character of Hannah changes as she comes of age. 

Hannah begins the novel as an immature young girl who is, at best, annoyed by her Jewish faith.  The reader notices this immaturity immediately when the family has vowed to spend the Seder meal at Passover in the Bronx, and Hannah does nothing but complain.  During the actual meal, Hannah’s annoyance continues until she is asked to open the door for Elijah.  This is where her Holocaust experience begins.

At the end of the novel, Hannah has changed into a mature young adult who has a newfound respect for her Jewish faith in that she survived the horrors of the Holocaust and sacrificed her life for others. Hannah watches as many characters show compassion for others by sharing their food rations and clothes in the concentration camp.  Further, Hannah sees many people literally dying in the gas chambers because of their great faith.  At one point, she is slapped by an elder for showing disrespect.  Hannah eventually agrees that the slap was necessary.  The climax of the novel is the height of Hannah’s change.  She sacrifices her own life for her friend named Rivka.  She tells Rivka only to “run” and to “remember.”  When Hannah returns safely to her own time, she has a new respect for her religion.

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The Devil's Arithmetic

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