The Face in the Cloth

by Jane Yolen

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 82

"The Face in the Cloth" features the ambiguous setting typical of most fairy tales. Events take place in a land with a medieval culture, ruled by a king who lives in a castle surrounded by servants and courtiers. The land is a place where magic is real and interaction between people and magic, if not frequent, is at least not rare. When the King brings his daughter to the hut in the forest, he is well aware that magic is a possibility.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

According to Yolen, "I had begun this story because I loved the old fairy tales that open with a king and queen who want a child, tales like 'Snow White.'" The pattern and tone of "The Face in the Cloth" are those of a fairy tale. Fairy tales offer the opportunity to deal with broad human issues concisely, pulling together significant elements for close examination. Where a scholarly disquisition might take volumes to cover the issues related to a daughter carrying the image of her mother with her or a novel covering the same issues might be so long and diffuse as to bog down in its ideas, a fairy tale allows for the use of commonly recognized symbols that carry the burdens of large ideas. For instance, the daughter carrying an image of her mother around with her is a very big idea—images can reproach, criticize, encourage, confuse— and a daughter's life can be shaped by the image of her mother—affecting her relationship with her father, her friendships, and even who she chooses to love, yet in "The Face in the Cloth" the broad issues of the burden of the image are symbolized by a sewn image on a piece of cloth. The cloth is sewn on the Princess' cloaks, and she wraps those cloaks around her, trying to stay warm, but always being cold. There, in a sharply depicted image, all the aspects of the daughter's image of her mother are summarized, allowing the author to work with them in a manner that can be plainly understood by her audience without as much long-winded explanation as is found here.

Social Sensitivity

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The central issue of "The Face in the Cloth," the carrying of the mother's image by the daughter, is more a personal issue than a social one, and it transcends topicality— it is a universal issue that crosses cultures and social classes. That Yolen has chosen a princess to bear the burden of her theme rather than a commoner is more a result of her interest in fairy-tale king and queen figures than any reflection of social distinction. In fact, the symbolism of the story is such that every daughter is a princess to her father, and every mother a queen to her daughter. This generalization may not truly stretch to cover everyone, but it is likely that young and old readers alike will tacitly recognize these relationships. Further, it is typical of fairy tales to cut wide swaths of generalizations with their symbolism, and it is typical of their audiences to be intelligent enough to recognize that there may be exceptions to these generalizations.

The motivation of the Queen that moves her to set off the chain of events that lead to her death and to her daughter's burden is one of considerable social interest. She and her husband yearn to have children. Even though they are in love and happy with each other, they feel unhappiness at their lack of offspring. It worth noting how the grownups regard children as wanted, even necessary parts of their lives, and how the Queen's desperation is motivated by a love of children. When she enters into her agreement with the three sisters, even though she does not know what she must give to have a child, it is with the hope for a child for the child's sake, without hint of wanting any particular kind of child. In an era in which science offers ways for women to become pregnant that had not existed even a generation ago, with women willing to risk their own health for the prospect of having a child, the Queen stands as their representative, selflessly seeking to have and to love new life, a product of her and her husband's love.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 300

Hutt, Karen. Booklist 92, 4 (October 15, 1995): 397. If not enthusiastic, Hutt at least likes Here There Be Witches.

"Jane (Hyatt) Yolen." In Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Volume 29. Edited by Hal May and James G. Lesniak. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990, pp. 463- 469. A summary of Yolen's publications, with a brief interview of Yolen.

Scanlon, Donna L. School Library Journal 41, 12 (December 1995): 110. A review of Here There Be Witches that praises its poetry as well as fiction.

Telgen, Diane. "Jane Yolen." In her Something about the Author. Volume 75. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994, pp. 223-229. A list of Yolen's publications, with a short biography.

Yolen, Jane. "America's Cinderella." Children's Literature in Education 8 (1977): 21- 29. Yolen discusses the history of the Cinderella fairy tale, explaining that she prefers the strong character of the original tale to the weakened versions in modern retellings.

——. "Jane Yolen: The Bardic Munchies." Locus 26 (January 1991): 4, 78. Yolen discusses why she thinks writing for children is challenging, as well as what she regards as important elements in her fiction.

——. "Jane Yolen." In Jim Roginski's Behind the Covers: Interviews with Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1985, pp. 224-238. In an interview with Roginski, Yolen explains why she writes what she does.

——. "Jane Yolen: Telling Tales." Locus 39 (August 1997): 4-5, 72. In an interview, Yolen talks about the creative process involved in composing her works.

——. Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood. New York: Philomel Books, 1981. Yolen explains why she prefers tough characters, noting that they help to clarify the differences between good and evil by defying evil.

——. The Writer (March 1997): 20. Yolen is interviewed by John Koch. She explains her views about style, as well discussing why she enjoys writing.

——. Writing Books for Children. Boston: The Writer, 1983 (revised edition). A discussion of how to write books for children, emphasizing technique.

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