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The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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Student Question

In "Devil's Arithmetic", what is Fayge's story of the werewolf's heart full of pain?

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Fayge's story of the werewolf's heart full of pain is

b.  meant to tell of the earth's wickedness and her pain at the loss of her father.

Fayge, who is maintaining only a tenuous hold on reality under the unbelievable horror of the camp, has not spoken since being told that her father had been "chosen" for extermination.  When she does speak again she tells the story of a young boy named Israel who "led a small band of children against a werewolf whose heart was Satan's".  The band is victorious, and in the end Israel walks "straight into the werewolf's body and (holds) its awful dark heart in his hand"; he discovers that the "awful heart (is) filled with 'immeasurable pain', a pain that began before time and would endure forever".  Israel releases the heart and places it upon the earth, "and the earth opened and swallowed the black heart into itself". 

Fayge's heart is filled with the same kind of pain, pain which is the direct result of the earth's wickedness, and is made finally intolerable by the loss of her father.  Fayge's story foreshadows her future action of rushing forward to die with her beloved Shmuel as he is about to be executed.  Like the werewolf's heart, her own broken heart will return to the earth, and the earth will swallow up the "immeasurable pain" within it (Chapter 16).

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