In The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, why does Jan need to steal? Is he justified in stealing?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jan’s involvement in theft first emerges when he meets with Joseph Balicki. Joseph recognizes that Jan is a pickpocket. He, however, benefits from Jan’s theft when the boy gives him food stolen from the Nazis.

Joseph meets with Jan when he traces his way back home after escaping from the German prison. He tries to obtain information about his children, but Jan has not met them yet. Joseph hands Jan the silver sword he finds among the rubble of his old house after the boy asks for it. In exchange, Joseph requests Jan to inform the Balicki children to go to Switzerland if he meets them. Joseph decides to go to Switzerland, and Jan helps him get onto a train. Jan gives Joseph food that he had stolen from the Nazi barracks for the trip.

Jan is again involved in theft while on his way to Switzerland together with the Balicki children. Edek suspects Jan of theft when the boy shows up with strange food cans. Edek trails Jan and sees him meet with an accomplice; after they talk, Jan climbs up a train signal tower and begins tampering with it. Edek thinks Jan is trying to wreck the train and pursues him. Jan runs away, and Edek is arrested by American soldiers. Ruth intervenes, and Jan is forced to say the truth. Jan, in his defense, states that he did it for food. He is, however, remorseful, and serves his time in jail.

It is important to acknowledge that Jan is a young orphan boy trying to survive through a war. He steals for food, and he feels justified because he has limited options for his survival. In my opinion, Jan is justified because if he registered for food rations, he would have exposed himself to forced labor. In addition, food is hard to come by in times of war, and for young children, it gets difficult to secure any work in such conditions.

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The Silver Sword

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