Themes and Meanings
It would be simple enough to read this as a tale of psychic wounds borne by a survivor of the Holocaust, particularly as “Rosa” is a sequel to an earlier story, “The Shawl,” which provides an account of a particular experience in the concentration camp involving Rosa, Stella, and Magda and lays groundwork for a probable cause of guilt on Rosa’s part.
This would seem further supported by Rosa’s explanation of time as a structuring device dividing people’s lives into “before,” “after,” and “during” the Holocaust. Just as the “before” is a dream, she says, the “after” is a joke: “Only the during stays.” She condemns those who try to forget the “during,” as if she were trapped in that time of horrifying experience, which had the power to transform “before” into “after,” or “dream” into “joke.”
However, Rosa is trapped not in time but in pride. Although her mind seems often to dwell in the “before,” she insists that she does not want to return to that actual time. Her memories serve, rather, to recall the privileged potential that she once enjoyed and to give imaginative shape to the potential perfection that Magda (as Rosa’s single accomplishment of any value) might have attained had she only survived, for Magda, too, has the power to transform: Like “the philosophers’ stone that prolongs life and transmutes iron to gold,” Magda can, through the material agency of the shawl, transform her ordinary mother into “a Madonna.” Rosa believes not in God but in “mystery” and attributes such power to the shawl that the object becomes almost a sacred relic in and of itself: “Your idol,”...
(The entire section is 686 words.)