The Devil's Arithmetic Questions and Answers
by Jane Yolen

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What are three symbols in The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen?

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Rebecca Karli eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are many symbols throughout the novel, The Devil's Arithmetic, especially ones that come from Jewish traditions and folklore. For example, the Jewish people refer to the gas chamber/crematorium as Lilith's Cave, which comes from an old Jewish story about a female demon named Lilith who lures people into her cave when they look at themselves in the mirror. According to Jewish folklore, Lilith was Adam's first wife before Eve who would not be obedient to him. Lilith's Cave therefore represents hell and death for the Jews, as once they go into the gas chambers, they're never coming back. Another example is how the Nazis in command are referred to as Angels of Death or Dark Angels, because they would come for the "Chosen" or the Jews they had chosen to kill in the gas chambers that day.

However, in my opinion, the most poignant symbols are the sparrows that Hannah sees singing, flying, and diving for insects in the trees around the concentration camp. They are particularly powerful...

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kturner0317 | Student


Symbols are used as a representation of something, such as places or events; even people in some cases.
Certain aspects of The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen have symbols representing different descriptive tortures handed down upon the Jewish people in a tie in history that was murderous an torturous at best.
During Passover, Hannah finds herself going towards a door in search of Elijah and in order to see him she must open and pass through the doorway. The door represents a barrier from the Jews and the rest of the world at the time and Hannah is on the other side of the door where she finds herself in the midst of a small town during WWII. Hannah is sent to a concentration camp, along with her family. The door is a symbol of that passage to the horror she faces on the other side.
Also in the story, there are other significant symbolizations that represent the destruction and desecration of Jews, such as the bridal gown. What is meant to be a joyous garment marking the start of a unity gets ripped off as a symbol of the destruction of Jews in concentration camps.
The earrings are also a significant symbol of the beauty of the Jewish people that is stole away for safe keeping. The earrings represent the beauty of Jewish culture and way of life that was being eradicated and ripped from the world at the hands of the torturous German Army under Hitler’s rule.