“The Shawl,” by Cynthia Ozick, is a short story that describes the fight for survival of a woman, an adolescent, and a child. Magda, only 15 months old, is accompanied by her teenage sister Stella, and her loving mother Rosa while living in a concentration camp during World War II. Rosa is unable to breast-feed her child, which makes Magda turn to the shawl in order to fulfill the maternal figure she’s missing; Rosa also suffers the loss of a child during this journey while Stella, the eldest daughter, becomes stronger and more voracious in order to subsist. The description of the setting, and the use of both imagery and figurative language help to fully describe the sentiments and emotions in Cynthia Ozick’s story.
A concentration camp in spring, the setting of such tragedy, an environment surrounded by a fence in which at the other side grows flowers and rain is abundant; but inside the fence it’s misery and pain. “On the other side of the steel fence, far away, there were green meadows speckled with dandelions and deep-colored violets; beyond them, even farther, innocent tiger lilies, tall, lifting their orange bonnets. In the barracks they spoke of “flowers,” of “rain”: excrement, thick turd-braids, and the slow stinking maroon waterfall that slunk down from the upper bunks.” Page 4 lines 6-9, fully describe the comparison of the type of scenery and life in and out the fence. The setting in the short story is presented as an antagonist because of the influence it gives in the character’s lives; ironically, the story develops during spring, which is considered the season of birth and life, and as a consequence of the holocaust we find death, becoming the opposite of the rebirth. The setting can also be considered as an antagonist for the characters; “They were in a place without pity,” Neither Rosa, Stella or Magda could control what their destiny held for them; the situation they’re in makes life and balance between life and death unpredictable.
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Rosa is the maternal figure in the story, while her daughter Stella
represents the coldness and rock-hard heart, and Magda, the youngest, is pure and naive. “Rosa did not feel hunger; she felt light, not like someone walking but like someone in a faint, in trance arrested in a fit, someone who is a floating angel, alert and seeing everything…” Metaphor is used to describe Rosa’s character; it is used to illustrate the perspective she has on life disregarding her actual environment. “…Afterword she was always cold, always. The cold went into her heart: Rosa saw that Stella’s heart was cold.” In page 3 lines 2-4 use metaphors to describe how coldness has taken over Stella. She had now found, as a goal, to subsist as the strongest, not even caring to steel her sister’s shawl. “…Magda’s feathered round head and her pencil legs and balloonish belly and zigzag arms…” (Page 4, lines 12 & 13) The metaphors used in the quote provide physical explanation of what Magda looked like. It expresses how the child’s body could be described thin but malnourished. Imagery and figurative language are used to show the conditions of each character by describing with common elements both physical and personality traits.
Setting, imagery, and figurative language are used to support the understanding in Cynthia Ozick’s short story. The setting is important in order to understand the context and the place they’re at. Both imagery and figurative language connect to describe the characters in a better way. It shows the tragic theme presented in the short story. The author in order to convey the reader and provide much more detail uses these three literary elements in “The Shawl.”