July 19, 2014

Summary of Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
This is the summary of the short story The Shawl not the summary of the whole novel, sorry for any confusion.

Rosa and her two daughters, Stella (14 years old) and Magda (15 months), were in a concentration camp. Rosa carried Magda under a shawl; so that she was not seen. Stella was jealous of her baby sister, because she was able to stay in the warmth of her mother's bosom under the shawl. Rosa's milk had run dry; so Magda often sucked air from her mother's nipples. Rosa and Stella were walking skeletons; they walked as if in a trance. Stella ate the little food she was given eagerly; Rosa gave most of her food to Magda, who had a swollen belly. Neither Rosa nor Stella had their menstrual cycles, because they were so skinny.

Magda didn't look like them; she had blond hair and blue eyes. Rosa thought many times about giving Magda to someone along the road, but she was afraid of getting shot. Whenever Magda would get hungry she would suck on the corner of the shawl. The shawl was magical; it could keep a baby fed for three days.

One day, while Stella studied Magda, she said that Magda was Aryan, almost as if it would justify eating her. They were so hungry that it didn't seem wrong to eat her little sister. There was no pity amongst these people, prisoners of the Aryans.

Rosa knew that Magda was going to die. No one knew about Magda, but it was only a matter of time before someone found out. One day, Magda made a sound like a laugh, which shocked Rosa because she had never heard anyone laugh. For the most part Magda was mute.

Magda guarded her shawl, and the only one allowed to touch it was Rosa. One day, Stella stole it from her baby sister citing that she was cold. It was clear that Stella's heart was growing cold. Magda looked everywhere for her shawl and eventually wandered out into the roll-call arena; Magda called out "Maaaa," which was the first word that she had said since Rosa stopped producing milk. Rosa didn't know what to do. Should she go after the yelling Magda, who would not be quiet until she got her shawl back, or should she go back into the barracks and get the shawl and then go fetch Magda? She was scared that if she gave Magda back her shawl that she would become mute again.

Rosa went and took the shawl off of the sleeping Stella, and went back outside. Rosa held up the shawl, and watched as it blew in the breeze. Outside of the steel fence there were flowers, butterflies, and green meadows. When Rosa looked back towards where Magda had been she saw her on the shoulders of a black body, who was wearing a helmet and boots. He was walking towards the electric fence. Magda flew through the air and landed against the electric fence. Rosa fought the urge to go to where Magda's body lay. Rosa put Magda's shawl in her mouth and sucked it until it was dry.


Ozick, Cynthia. "The Shawl." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York, Oxford UP, 1992. 601-606.

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