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The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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Why doesn't Fayge enjoy the "Sherele" wedding music and dance in The Devil's Arithmetic?

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Fayge does not enjoy the "Sherele" wedding song and dance because the lyrics of the song are negative and pessimistic. She reveals her feelings about the song when Hannah's friends are dancing by the wagon in which she is riding, singing,

"Who asked you to get married?

Who asked you to be buried alive?

You know that no one forced you,

You took this madness on yourself."

Fayge tells Hannah,

"I always hated the 'Sherele'...such a gloomy song for so glorious an event."

Fayge is right in that the song lyrics do seem innapropriate for a joyful occasion like a wedding; it is ironic that the song should be considered a wedding song. The young people sing and dance to it unthinkingly, however, probably not even aware of the foreboding sense of the words. Apparently, the "Sherele" is like many singing games played by little children, such as "London Bridge Is Falling Down". While the original meaning of the words may have ominous connotations, no one pays much attention to them; the music and dance have become such a part of tradition that the implications of the lyrics are not even thought of anymore.

In the context of the book, the singing and dancing of the Sherele serves the function of foreshadowing. The dark, negative tone set by the lyrics are fulfilled just a few minutes later, when the wedding party is accosted by the Nazis (Chapter 8).

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