Why is the setting essential to the story in "The Shawl"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Obviously, because the story is about the Holocaust, the settings on both a road of exile and within a concentration camp are necessary elements of it. We are actually not told the exact location in Europe where it takes place, nor the name of the camp. In some way this...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Obviously, because the story is about the Holocaust, the settings on both a road of exile and within a concentration camp are necessary elements of it. We are actually not told the exact location in Europe where it takes place, nor the name of the camp. In some way this lack of specificity can be said to enhance the power of the story. It has the vagueness and the texture of a nightmare. One gets the feeling from the narration that one cannot see all the details, as in a dream, and the image of the child enveloped in the shawl is symbolic of the confined, trapped circumstances of all the victims.

That said, and partly because we are not given exact details of location and time, the fundamentals of the story could be transferred to other settings in which atrocities similar to the Holocaust have been carried out. One need only look at the list of genocides that have occurred since the start of the twentieth century to see the universality of this story and the fact of cruelty, sadism, and mass murder that have been omnipresent in modern times.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The setting is important to the story because the conditions in the Holocaust caused the problem and the solution.

The events of the story could only have occurred during The Holocaust, and they also symbolically embody the horror and futility of the time period.  A woman cannot even protect her baby.  She cannot give her baby to a stranger, and if the baby is found she will be taken.

The conditions within the concentration camp are terrible.  Even though Rosa’s baby Magda survives to walk at fifteen months, she is still starving and thin.

They were in a place without pity, all pity was annihilated in Rosa, she looked at Stella’s bones without pity. She was sure that Stella was waiting for Magda to die so she could put her teeth into the little thighs.

The horror of a woman trying to protect her baby, and the horror of seeing her baby die, or even thinking the young woman would eat her baby, are conditions unique to the Holocaust.  This brief story captures the horror, helplessness, and senseless of the time.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team