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.