Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because Rosa’s version of truth is often at odds with other information presented in the story, it is clear that Ozick intends for the reader to question Rosa’s reliability. The discrepancies range from something as minor as two different accounts of Rosa’s age to the crucial question of whether Magda actually lives, and much ground in between remains open to interpretation. At times the charge of madwoman appears warranted, yet at other times Rosa’s faculties seem too accurately to record the cultural and spiritual wasteland around her for her to be anything but painfully sane. Even in acknowledging that some people live only in their thoughts, she seems ironically aware of her own delusions.

The net effect of these conflicting accounts, while demonstrating in an abstract sense the subjectivity of truth, is to establish between the reader and the story’s “reality” a tension parallel to that between Rosa and her environment. As he or she participates in Rosa’s isolation from an uncertain world with which she is out of step, the reader’s sense of reality, as defined by “fact,” is undermined.

Rosa’s unreliable accounts also cast doubt over the past from which she has “fallen,” however, and threaten the very underpinnings of her pride. She seems to protest too much, for example, offering so elaborate an explanation that Magda’s father was not a German Nazi that the reader may suspect the opposite to be true. Moreover, Rosa’s act of smashing up her antique shop—literally destroying “other people’s history”—speaks plainly enough not only of her own subjective view of the past but also of the inadequacy of factual (material) minutiae as a basis for truth. As Rosa fleshes out Magda’s “life” with conflicting details, the reader might well question how much of Rosa’s own reconstructed past is to be trusted. What, then, of Rosa is true?

This subverting of factual detail finally lessens the reader’s dependency on fact as a reliable tool for discovering truth and brings into focus, at the same time, the concept of Rosa’s truth as composed of universals—of fatal flaws and qualities of character, of fallen states and states of redemption, of the human need to be accepted, connected, and lovingly interpreted—the truths of myth and metaphor, and of lives taken on faith.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Cynthia Ozick’s “Rosa” first appeared in the New Yorker in 1983. In 1979, a group calling itself the Institute for Historical...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)


The setting of Miami, Florida, figures prominently in this story. The incessant heat and humidity add to...

(The entire section is 1029 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

Early 1940s: Central and eastern Europe is the largest center of the world’s Jewish population by the start of World War II...

(The entire section is 572 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

In interviews, Cynthia Ozick has said that in principle, she is against making fiction out of the Holocaust, but felt compelled to write...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Ozick’s “The Shawl” (1989) tells the harrowing story of Magda’s death at the hands of a Nazi guard and will give readers greater...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Bawer, Bruce, “Bookshelf: Change of Pace for a Pair of Heavyweights,” in Wall Street Journal, September...

(The entire section is 370 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Cynthia Ozick: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Cynthia Ozick’s Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Friedman, Lawrence S. Understanding Cynthia Ozick. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

Kauver, Elaine M. Cynthia Ozick’s Fiction: Tradition and Invention. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Lowin, Joseph. Cynthia Ozick. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

Pinsker, Sanford. The Uncompromising Fictions of Cynthia Ozick. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

Rainwater, Catherine, and William J. Scheick, eds. Three Contemporary Women Novelists: Hazzard, Ozick, and Redmon, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

Strandberg, Victor H. Greek Mind/Jewish Soul: The Conflicted Art of Cynthia Ozick. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Walden, Daniel, ed. The Changing Mosaic: From Cahan to Malamud, Roth, and Ozick. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Walden, Daniel, ed. The World of Cynthia Ozick: Studies in American Jewish Literature. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987.