Survival of the human spirit (including courage and heroism) Role: it shows how heroic Gemma and Josef’s story is, the power of survival, great empathy, human spirit’s resilience, more from the novel, moral and lesson. Its purpose is to inform people on the effects of such wars and things as the holocaust and destruction of human life. To let people get an insight into this different period in time – nothing like (we hope) anyone could experience in their lifetime. What Characters?: Gemma, Josef, Partisans. What can the reader learn?: Overcoming traumatic truths can be excruciatingly difficult for someone who has experienced the presence of evil. We notice that Gemma slowly reveals a degree of truth in her fairytale story as she told the entire lyrics of a song “look at me: I’m pale and dead. I had already washed and said the blessing when in walked the khapermenshn (kidnapper)…”.
We learn about that the resilience of the human spirit is so strong that they were determined to move on with rather than giving up. How does Yolen present the theme?: The theme is mostly evident in Josef’s account of his Holocaust experience. Gemma’s telling of Briar Rose uses a simplistic contrast between the character of the prince and the peasant. Yolen uses a diverse range of characters in the real life story to display different examples of survival of the human spirit and courage. Josef expresses numerous times his survival of the Holocaust and his views on heroism, courage and survival. “this is a story of survivors, not heroes…a man are not a hero if he scrabbles to stay alive, if he struggles for one more crust of bread, one more ragged breath. We were all heroes of the moment”. Josef provides the reader with an interesting idea of courage and the human spirit.
Initially, we see a man, who perhaps believes in the ideal of strength and courage, but does not follow it through into his actions, “…started to say something…about being men, about fighting, about dying with honour…” as opposed to, “…he admitted finally not only to homosexuality, but named his past lovers as well.” Finally after escaping Sachenhausen he quotes, “he was not afraid…he had no fear left,” this transition is an example of how the events of the war had influenced Josef’s change in attitude towards survival and courage, resulting in a man who had become numb to the horrors of the Holocaust, yet to an extent, a stronger man than he was before. Quotes: “it is our sacred duty to fight when we can and to die if we must” Henrik, “we have not come here to stay alive. It is our sacred duty to fight when we can and to die if we must, but to avenge what they have done to our Germany” pg 182.
Identity – growth and truth
Role: The theme identity plays a large role in the novel when it comes to discovering Gemma’s past. Gemma’s identity at the start of the novel is hidden; we know very little to almost nothing about her past. Throughout the duration of the book Becca (Gemma’s granddaughter) is on a journey to discover and unveil the truth about Gemma and her past, as well as revealing her identity. During this journey Becca discovers not only her grandmother’s identity, but also her own, Becca grows up and realises that her grandmother chose her to find the truth because she and Becca are so much alike. We also discover Josef’s identity and his past life and what he is today – a hero. What can be learned from the theme: Learn about the identities of each character.
The truth and identity of Gemma’s. Identity is important about knowing who we are and giving a sense of where we come from. Becca’s learning of the truth and the finding the family’s identity allowed her to grow. How Yolen presents the theme: Similes, Intertextuality, Repetition, Allegory, Symbolism, Narrative voices, Language, Irony. Quotes: “She had a new baby but no husband and…. That is all I remember” pg 83, ”She carried herself like a princess” pg 84, “You asked where it was, Rebecca, and I answered you. Kulmhof. It was not even a concentration camp. It was simply a place of… extermination.” Pg 96, “This was Gemma” Pg 100
Family, love and loyalty
Role: family love and loyalty in the novel make us aware of what can happen to people in a difficult time. The Holocaust brought together strong groups of people who fought to survive together. Becca’s family are very loving and supporting towards her decision to research Gemma’s history – this shows the importance of family and love. Yolen has used the novel as a way to tell truths about the past and from this, the themes and central ideas have emerged. Characters linked to theme: majority. What can we learn: Importance of family history + love, learning where we came from and who we are as a person. How Yolen presents the theme: loyalty is shown through Becca and Josef. Becca – loyal to Gemma, Josef – partisans. Techniques. Quotes: “I am with child” she said “and I will not let it die” – Gemma.