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The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen
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How do Gitl and Shumel react to Hannah's ravings about her coming from New Rochelle, New York in The Devil's Arithmetic?

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Gitl and Shmuel react to Hannah's ravings about being from New Rochelle with surprise. However, they cover up their initial shock with indulgent humor.

Both Shmuel and Gitl think of Hannah as Chaya. In their minds, Chaya almost died from her recent bout with cholera, so they resolve to be...

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Gitl and Shmuel react to Hannah's ravings about being from New Rochelle with surprise. However, they cover up their initial shock with indulgent humor.

Both Shmuel and Gitl think of Hannah as Chaya. In their minds, Chaya almost died from her recent bout with cholera, so they resolve to be patient in the face of her incredible proclamations.

Instead of castigating Hannah, Shmuel decides to play along. He does not realize that Hannah really is from New Rochelle and has come from the future to live temporarily in the person of Chaya.

When Hannah continues insisting that she is from New Rochelle and that this city is in New York in America, Shmuel admits defeat. To placate Hannah, he says that he doesn't know all of the streets in Lublin. Shmuel thinks that, in Hannah's addled state, she is saying that Lublin (which is in Poland) is actually in America.

So, Shmuel makes a little joke:

"And Krakow is in Siberia. I get it. A joke to help me forget about my marriage fears." He laughed. "Lublin in America and Krakow in Siberia. Though dear Gitl would say it most certainly is that far to both of
them." He reached out and patted Hannah on the head. "What a strange little bird you are indeed, who has found her way into our nest."

In the story, Shmuel is betrothed to Fayge, so this is why he refers to his "marriage fears." The next morning, Hannah asks about white bread, cereal, or doughnuts for breakfast. Her request so surprises Gitl and Shmuel that they both burst out laughing. Note that both adults still think of Hannah as Chaya, and the real Chaya would never have asked for white bread or doughnuts for breakfast.

"White bread? So that is what one eats in Lublin. White bread is for rich folk, not for farmers." Shmuel laughed. "But yesterday you would eat nothing. Nothing at all. And today you want white bread. It is an improvement, I think. From nothing to Lublin white bread. Ah, but then I forget, you are not from Lublin, you are from Rochelle."

In all, Gitl and Shmuel react to Hannah's words as the addled proclamations of a girl who has yet to recover fully from her bout with cholera.

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Gitl and Shmuel think first that Hannah is talking about a street of Lunan, and then that she is joking.

Naturally, Gitl and Shmuel are not going to think that Hannah is telling the truth. They think she is Chiya, from Lublin.  It makes no sense that she would say that she is American, or from New Rochelle.

At first, Shmuel is concerned and a little disturbed by Hannah’s behavior, and her insistence that she is not Chaya.

“Lublin is a big place, I am sure,” Shmuel said, scratching his beard with a gathering urgency. “And, surely, I am not familiar with every avenue and street, having been there only twice in my life.” (ch 5, p. 34)

He finally decides she is joking, and just trying to get his mind off the wedding and “marriage fears.”

Hannah does not really realize the situation she is in, at this point.  She is not playing along, and is getting more nervous and frustrated.  At first she might make those around her uncomfortable, but they will find ways to explain it away.

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