The Devil's Arithmetic Questions and Answers
by Jane Yolen

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What is the dramatic irony in Chapters 10 and 11 of The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen?

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Lizette Eaves eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When looking for dramatic irony, it's important to first understand the different types of irony. Keep in mind that writers use irony to imply the opposite of what is suggested. The three types of irony are dramatic, verbal, and situational. In The Devil's Arithmetic, the author utilizes dramatic irony: irony where the reader understands the irony that the characters in the text do not.

Because Hannah, and the reader, know their history, there is dramatic irony in Chapters 10 and 11. In Chapter 10, Hannah suggests that the people on the train run away to Israel, which has not been established at this point in history. In Chapter 11, they arrive at the camp which posts a sign touting "Arbeit Macht Frei: work will make you free." However, history has told us that work will not make them free. Even though the Nazis have promised that they will not be hurt if they follow the directions, we, as the reader, know that this is not true and that most of the prisoners will be hurt or killed in the camp.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Chapters 10 and 11 of The Devil’s Arithmetic are about the journey on the rail cars to the concentration camp.  Yes, there is definitely dramatic irony involved.  Dramatic irony occurs within a story when the reader knows something that the characters of a story do not know.  In this case, dramatic irony occurs in regards to the Nazi lies to the Jewish people on the train.  While packed into the trains, the Jewish people are told, “Do what you are told and no one will be hurt.”  They also have their valuables taken from them “for safekeeping.”  Quite simply, the Nazis are telling lies.  Perhaps the final lie on the journey is the sign that the people are welcomed with:  “ARBEIT MACHT FREI … Work makes you free.”  The Rabbi admits that they are not afraid of work; therefore, they will be free.  The Jewish people from the village hope to save their lives by following the orders of the Nazis and by believing their words. The reader knows that the Nazis are telling the Jewish people these lies in order to keep them calm and in compliance with the extermination plans.

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