illustration of main character Hannah opening a door which leads to a barbed wire fence

The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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Student Question

What nickname is used for Gitl in chapters 14-16 of "The Devil's Arithmetic"?

Expert Answers

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Gitl has two nicknames given to her by others.  Shifre calls her "Tante Gitl", or "Aunt Gitl".  Gitl takes care of everyone, young children and older ones alike.  The title "Tante" reflects the fact that she treats everyone as a relative, and she is a caregiver and mother-figure to all.

The other nickname given to Gitl is "Gitl the Bear".  When Hannah speaks flippantly of the dead, Gitl "slap(s) Hannah's face without warning, admonishing, "That may be camp talk out there, but in here, we say the prayer for the dead properly, like good Jews".  Like a mother bear, Gitl is fierce in making sure that her cubs maintain proper standards of behavior and respect; she will not allow those around her to lose their sense of dignity and humanity, and she makes sure that they never forget the proud heritage they have as Jews.  Hannah cannot identify the person who gives Gitl the title "Gitl the Bear", but, "hand on her smarting cheek", she repents of her thoughtless behavior and tells everyone, "Gitl is right" (Chapter 15).

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