The Zookeeper's Wife Themes
by Diane Ackerman

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Zookeeper's Wife Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Zookeeper's Wife Themes

The Polish Resistance Movement

While Ackerman focuses specifically on Antonina Żabiński, she cannot tell the zookeeper's wife's tale without explaining the Polish Resistance Movement. Jan is the one with the connections to begin using the zoo as a hiding place and tells a journalist years later that he loved the allure of taking risks and conquering normal human fears. While he was not a member of the official Polish military, Jan most likely saw more combat than many members of the military. Of all the resistance movements in Europe during the war, Poland's was arguably the most effective. While they eventually lost badly to the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising, they successfully carried out numerous acts of sabotage and daring rescues of sympathizers and Jews. Ackerman's focus on the resistance movement exemplifies the courage of the Poles during the war and also provides readers with a more extensive knowledge of an important part of Poland's World War II history.

Animal Versus Human Nature

As a naturalist writer, Ackerman devotes much of the book to describing the nature of the various animals found in the Żabińskis' zoo. She then applies her knowledge of the natural world to human nature. In Chapter 16, Ackerman writes that the animal world "thrives on ploy and counterploy" and that as a skilled zoologist, Jan extrapolated the "strategies of deceit" found in the animal kingdom. Those strategies enable him to move in and out of the ghetto unnoticed. Similarly, like all mothers in the animal kingdom, Antonina possesses the innate instinct to protect her children as they mature. She uses that maternal protectiveness for her children as well as her guests at the zoo. Finally, the Nazis do not escape Ackerman's juxtaposition of animal and human nature. Like a vicious pack of wolves, they prey upon the people of Warsaw and raid the city, devouring whatever they want. 

The Nazi Obsession With Purity

Hitler and his Nazi party's obsession with developing a pure race actually helps the Żabińskis at times. Because Berlin's zookeeper, Lutz Heck, serves as a German officer during the war, Jan's previous connection to him as a zoologist allows Jan to manipulate Heck...

(The entire section is 545 words.)