The main theme of Milkweed is identity. The quest to define one's identity is a natural part of adolescence. For Misha, however, the task is even more vexing as he has no idea where he came from or who he is. Misha's search for an identity to call his own converges with the Holocaust, when one's identity determined whether one lived or died. Misha recollects, "And so, thanks to Uri, in a cellar beneath a barbershop somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, in the autumn of the year nineteen thirty-nine, I was born, you might say." When Uri bestows upon him his identity and the fabricated story of his family, Misha clings desperately to each detail; when he sees horses, he actually looks for Greta, his fictitious favorite horse. Misha is "reborn" as Jack Milgrom by a disaffected immigration official upon his arrival in the United States after the war. However, it seems as though he does not have a true identity to call his very own until his granddaughter, Wendy Janina, affectionately refers to him as "Poppynoodle."
Survival is another key theme throughout Milkweed. During the Holocaust, people were willing to do virtually anything it took to stay alive. Some resorted to eating pigeons, squirrels, and dogs, while others relied on stealing. Such was the case with Misha; he was a spry, nimble thief who was able to steal what he needed to stay alive. What separated Misha from others, however, was that he always shared his loot with others; Misha was a source of sustenance for Janina and her family as well as for Uri and the other boys. This quality also gives readers insight into his character; despite the fact that Misha has always had to fend for himself, somewhere along the way he learned the importance of sharing. Another survival strategy for those in the novel was remaining invisible. Although intellectually Misha knew the importance of this (as instructed by Uri), he seems almost unwilling to hide. It is as though his flagrant behavior was the...
(The entire section is 616 words.)