The Holocaust was the biggest tragedy to the Jewish nation, resulting in millions of deaths and losses. “The Shawl”, by Cynthia Ozick, takes place during this time, and all throughout the story loss and despair is emphasized. Magda, the innocent infant, is the only character to thrive for most of the story, and she still becomes a victim to the harshness of the world around her. Rosa tries to keep Magda alive, and through the shawl, provides the only warmth in the story, while Stella bitterly craves the love and attention that Magda receives.
The path to despair begins with the first sentence. Stella is described as feeling “cold, cold, the coldness of hell”. Stella is too young to handle the harsh times as well as the care that
Rosa gives to Magda. She herself “wanted to be wrapped in a shawl, hidden away, asleep”, and her resentment for the baby grows. Magda has the comfort of the shawl, the reassurance of motherly love, and the bliss of being somewhat ignorant to their bleak situation; Stella does not.
Stella’s jealousy of Magda creates a feeling of icy bitterness that results in the infant’s death.
Alongside Stella’s jealousy, Rosa’s heart is established in the opening of the story. Rosa,
Stella, and Magda “walked on the roads together, Rosa with Magda curled up between sore breasts”. Rosa is willing to give to Magda to keep the baby alive, but it has made her sore.
Rosa’s soreness and Stella’s jealousy create an atmosphere of destruction; they will not survive.
Even though Rosa “did not feel hunger; she felt light,” that lightness is compared to “a floating angel, alert and seeing everything, but in the air, not there, not touching the road”. Rosa’s mental disconnection from her surroundings create a friction between them that is acted out on Magda.
Of the three characters, Magda is the only one who experiences any true joy in the story, and she is robbed of it by the end. Magda does not share Rosa’s “bleak complexion” but instead has “eyes blue as air,” and “smooth feathers of hair nearly as yellow as the Star sewn on to
Rosa’s coat”. Because the baby does not have the same dark outlook on the future, Magda is able to be satisfied by “the shawl’s good flavor, milk of linen” when Rosa is no longer able to provide her with real milk. The shawl is also described as a “magic shawl” that could “nourish an infant for three days and three nights”. Magda’s magic shawl that smells of “cinnamon and almond” create the only warmth in the story.
However, Magda finds warmth at the expense of Rosa and Stella, and although Rosa gives everything to the infant, Stella does not. Stella’s jealousy of Magda grows to the point where Rosa imagines that “Stella was waiting for Magda to die so she could put her teeth into the little thighs”. Stella’s cannibalistic resentment toward Magda inflates due to Magda’s vitality.
Although Magda had…