How does Antonina show individualism in The Zookeeper's Wife?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even before the war, Antonia has long been an individualist. For example, she communes with animals, and she is willing to take care of them in ways that others might find difficult. She midwifes giraffes in the middle of the night, and though she constantly finds running a zoo arduous, she cherishes the "small welcome moments of surprise" involved in being a zookeeper's wife (page 20). Antonia has a remarkable sense of empathy for all creatures, and, when Nazi bombers attack Warsaw, she runs through the zoo trying to rescue the animals and even asks a Nazi soldier if he has seen an escaped badger. 

Even more strikingly, Antonia resists Nazism, as she and her husband, Jan, "found Nazi racism inexplicable and devilish" (page 111). She and Jan harbor Jews escaping from the Warsaw Ghetto at great danger to themselves. Even while helping refugees hide in her zoo and villa, Antonia shows an individualist streak. For example, when Nazis arrive at the villa, she plays music on the piano by Jacob Offenbach, a German-Jewish Romantic composer, to warn guests of the Nazis' arrival (page 129). In every sense, Antonia is a fierce individualist who follows her conscience and resists the Nazis in a way that not many people did during the war.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are any number of examples you could select to show her strong individualistic bent in this fascinating story. One of the most important to me comes in the way that she is ready and willing to use the zoo that she and her husband own to shield and protect both animals and Jews from the German military. This is clearly something that endangers her own life and the lives of those around her, and yet it is something that instinctively she feels is necessary. She and her husband feel that using the zoo, a "setting so exposed," to hide the Jews would be perfect, and she uses a signal, playing Offenbach's "Go, Go, Go to Crete" on the piano whenever her "guests" need to hide if there is danger approaching.

The fact that Antonia suffers from illness but remains so intent on protecting their Jewish "guests" from various oppressors shows her independent streak. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with, but also she is compassionate and willing to follow the dictates of her heart and morals in defying German rule and reaching out to those who are suffering around her.