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The story is set against a backdrop of destruction in Europe during and after World War II. Much of the early action takes place in Warsaw and other areas of Poland. The opening chapters describe the South Polish prison camp where the children's father, Joseph Balicki, has been sent. The novel then switches to Warsaw under the Nazi occupation, where Joseph has returned to hunt in vain for his splintered family. The children's experiences living on their own in Warsaw provide further glimpses of the war-torn city. The Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the virtual destruction of the old city are vividly described. The locale shifts during the last two thirds of the book as the children journey to Switzerland to find their parents. As the book progresses, Serraillier paints a vivid portrait of western Poland, Berlin, and rural Germany in the aftermath of the war, depicting the long lines of migrating refugees, refugee camps, soup kitchens, cities devastated by bombing, and finally the beauty of Switzerland unscarred by the war, where the family's reunion finally occurs.

Literary Qualities

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The Silver Sword is a realistic novel about war that depends heavily on description for its literary effect. Because the setting of war-torn Europe shapes the children's experiences, Serraillier gives detailed and vivid descriptions of the ravaged countries and of the hardships the children endure. The role these problems play in building the children's characters is revealed several times by biblical parallels. Ruth tells Bible stories to the children in her school, and their favorite is the one which most inspires her as well: Daniel in the lions' den. She sees the hardships she faces every day as the lions, and she believes that if she is patient arid trusting like Daniel, she too will be delivered. Switzerland, as the children's destination, becomes the promised land that they reach after long wandering in the desert of the war.

The silver sword itself provides a recurring symbol of hope. The only vestige of the Balickis' home, the sword symbolizes the family's unity before the war. Joseph offers the sword to Jan as a pledge, and through Jan the sword serves as the crucial connection between Joseph and his children. It inspires Ruth to undertake the journey to look for her parents, and it spurs the children on as they travel. When the sword gets left behind at the Wolffs' farm, the children's luck changes for the worse; when the sword is returned, it cuts through the red tape of Swiss immigration and leads to the children's reunion with their parents. Jan firmly believes that the sword is responsible for the group's survival in the storm on the lake at the climax of the book. When his treasure box, symbolizing all the secrets of his past, finally sinks to the bottom of the lake, the sword alone remains, hanging from a string around his neck. He offers it, the most precious of his treasures, to Joseph's wife, Margrit, if she will be his mother. And so the pledge between Joseph and Jan is redeemed, and the sword brings the family back together.

Social Sensitivity

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As a novel about the effects of war, The Silver Sword confronts the effects of violence on a large scale and depicts a great deal of suffering. Although Serraillier never minimizes the hardship the family endures, he never graphically depicts the worst violence of the war. The novel shows that goodness and courage continue to exist in individuals, despite the evils of war. Jan is a special example of this theme; he is an attractive and sympathetic character, particularly in his special touch with...

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animals, but his various misdeeds often create added difficulties for the other children. His good intentions and genuine repentance make him forgivable even when he breaks the law. The final promise of a new society with peaceful ideals brings the book to a hopeful conclusion.

For Further Reference

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Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1971. Contains a biographical sketch of Serraillier.

MacCann, Donnarae. "Militarism in Juvenile Fiction." Interracial Books for Children 13 (1982): 18-20. Includes The Silver Sword in its discussion of young adult books dealing with war.

Taylor, Anne. "A Comparative Study of Juvenile Fiction Dealing with the Second World War." Emergency Librarian 11 (November 1983): 13-21. Compares various books for young adults that are set during or otherwise examine the issue of World War II. The Silver Sword is discussed in the context of other works.




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