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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What is Hannah's reaction to the dress Gitl gives her in The Devil's Arithmetic?

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Hannah reacts with disdain at the dress Gitl brings out for her.

The dress is a blue sailor-suit with an accompanying sash in the same color. It sports white piping at the sleeves and collar. Hannah reacts with disdain because she thinks that the dress is ugly and looks like something a baby would wear.

In short, Hannah thinks that the dress is frumpy and unsuitable for a girl of her age to wear to a wedding. She tells Gitl that it is more of a shmatte, or rag.

For her part, Gitl is disgusted with Hannah's reaction and retorts with a sharp answer. She tells Hannah that the dress may not be fit for Lublin, but it is certainly suitable for the shtetl. In fact, she proclaims that the dress is fit for royalty and, better than anything, Fayge will be wearing at the wedding.

When Hannah hears Gitl's answer, she feels guilty for complaining. Gitl also experiences guilt for her sharp retort. In the end, the older woman apologizes and acknowledges that the dress may be a little old-fashioned. However, it is all she has to share with Hannah, as the latter's clothes had to be burned.

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Hannah’s exact reaction to the dress Gitl gives her in Chapter Six of The Devil’s Arithmetic is to say that it “is a shmatte.”  This is a Yiddish word that means “rag.”  Therefore, Hannah absolutely despises the dress and thinks it is “the ugliest thing” she has ever seen.  The context of the situation is that Gitl is dressing Hannah for a wedding and wants her to look nice.  As a result, Gitl lets Hannah wear the same dress that Gitl wore for Shmuel’s Bar Mitzvah.  It is a blue sailor-suit with a huge collar, piping that is white, and a sash.  The reason why Hannah has to wear this particular dress to the wedding is that her own clothes were burned due to a previous sickness when she lived in Lublin.  When Hannah shows her disgust to Gitl, Gitl gets angry with Hannah.  Hannah is hurt by this severe scolding, and Gitl ends up saying she is sorry for the harshness she exhibited.

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