Insightful Critical Response, Demonstrating an Understanding of the Effect of Medium on Meaning
The story of "Briar Rose" uses one story to describe and relate another deeper meaning. The details of one story parallel or overshadow this hidden story now being revealed. The use of the story of a variation of "Sleeping Beauty" is retold by Gemma, a character in the novel, her own personal story is retold and given shape through the fable. She has replaced the horror of Holocaust memories with a fairy tale in the attempt to share her history with her grandchildren. The retelling is a mirror into her past an reflects an actual recorded human history. According to a writer from Britain, David Lodge, the use of the medium of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" in this case, resonates to the impression or memory of her present life (Yolen, 1992).
Briar Rose" tells a story of Gemma's life while at the same time relaying incidents of a fairy tale fantasy. Yolen changes the meaning of the fable's details to fit her interpretation however it is clearly apparent to the reader or listener that references universal familiarities.
The historical context of this story is the Holocaust which was a period of mass murder of Jewish people among others by Nazi Germans in a war that started in 1939 and went on till 1945. During this time over six million Jews and others were killed. The leader of this mandate was the German government led by Adolph Hitler. He explained the murders as a "final solution to a Jewish Problem." People were captured and forced into slave labor until they died or brutally murdered through gassing or other tortuous methods. Some of the other groups of people under attack during this war were those that opposed Hitler's agenda, which included politicians and religious groups. Homosexuals and gypsies were also counted among the prisoners (Yolen, 87). The prisoners were lied to in order to lure them into the death camps willingly. The camps were described as work camps but instead many were subjected to gas in transit that killed them. It was this journey that became the fate of Gemma.
One of the other characters from Yolen's novel narrative is Josef Potocki, he is a present observer in Gemma's life who is a witness that can relate to the details on the her life's story. He fills in the gaps of Gemma's story of the beginning, understanding her past and identifying her as a Holocaust survivor from Poland. He also knows about where she was from. Understanding the details, he too tells them from the medium of an outsider, an impartial observer yet he was central to Gemma's past as he saved her life (Yolen, 136). Using the third person was his medium to explain his part or meaning to Gemma's life.
This use of parallelism is effective in relaying the novel to the reading audience. Becca, the granddaughter seeking the truth about Gemma's past and Josef still alive to pass on the background to solve the missing history. This part of the novel is called the Castle to recount the fairy tale ending to Gemma's life which was saved by Josef (Yolen, 128). Here Becca too finds out where she is from, her Home in Poland then as she returns Home Again to the U.S. Stan, gives her a kiss to welcome her saying "we'll get to happily ever after eventually" (Yolen, 1992).
2. Analyses how language forms, features and structures of the text shape meaning and influence responses.
Yolen changes the form of her language based on the circumstances and characters within the topical sections of the book. For example when writing about the Castle, Josef uses terms that relay a heroic life and the activities of the Partisans as gallant in their attempts to survive and save lives. The princess, Gemma, is captured and in need of rescue. Josef tells the story of how she was near death at Chelmno and how the princess was saved by her 'prince' Aron's kiss. Josef also shares the daring acts of the Partisans to save more lives by living in the woods near constant danger of discovery.
The efforts of Aron, given a heroic name of Avenger marrying the princess, Gemma (Yolen, 195). I was the princess in the castle, Gemma remembers, (Yolen, 19). Josef tells the story of the violent death of Gemma's young husband Aron, the Avenger.
Josef tells the story in the third person using a different structure for communicating the importance of legend to further build courage in the partisans quest.
Some text from the novel that indicate this type of language is he recounts the actions of the partisans, "We rescue one, they kill one thousand. Still, one is enough" (Yolen, 181). This type of comment is repeated to emphasize the message of valiance and determination to survive against their tormentors. It parallels the death count of victims at the Chelmno death camps of each day killing a thousand innocent prisoners or eintag ein tausend (Yolen, 178). Josef himself born in a wealthy family, was brave and heroic in saving Gemma, using his influence and risking his own life many times to help others (Yolen, 139, 165).
In another instance the expressions of family life in American are shared when talking about the events that the Berlin family experienced. The speech in the household was simple American English when describing the family members and their relationships. While discussions between Stan and Becca are presented as present dialogue among two people.
When the three sisters were in conversation yet another structure was used that highlighted the tension in the relationships as they disagreed about Gemma's soundness of mind and dislike for visiting her. Also when they bickered as adults over conversation when they both were together with Becca.
One of Becca's acquaintances, Magda that assisted her when having to visit the death camp spoke English but was not very fluent, for example saying thanks for a pair of jeans in an disjointed way. "Oh, they are much in appreciation," Magda told Becca in acceptance of the gift (Yolen, 103).
These variations in language from childhood disagreements to more customary or informal conversation allow Yolen to express different moods and time periods.
Some features of her storytelling, explain how through consistently returning to this story, Gemma had the memories of her earlier life. Those subconscious thoughts resurfacing and intruding on her present mind, even though she could only relate them to others through this allegorical fairy tale.
Another feature being the contrast of the happy home of the Berlins now compared with a tragic past that Gemma had buried in her memories. It seems that Gemma was being haunted by her past even though she was present in a 'happy ending'.
Demonstrate a perceptive awareness of essay format, analyzing specific textual references and using language appropriate to audience, purpose and form.
The story structure is narrative in form and has as mentioned and tells two parallel stories. Gemma's fairy tell story of Briar Rose which Becca recognizes is reflective of her grandmother's life (Yolen, 18). The second story being told here is the quest of discovery that Becca takes on to put together the missing pieces of Gemma's story after she dies. Gemma made Becca promise to find the castle in her story and thereby uncover her "happily ever after." Becca is something of a journalist and has a colleague Stan that is interested in Becca. This romantic happenstance adds a third story that is budding between the two journalists.
In sharing the story Gemma is clearly heard as the strange version of Sleeping Beauty is recounted. This allegorical version is so different that it gets criticism from those who hear it. The two elder sisters of Becca are disapproving and even appear insensitive in desiring to hear the story repeated often by their Grandmother. Becca being the youngest is drawn in by her Grandmother's tale, and remembers the details given as part of her most prevailing childhood memories "Seepin Boot" she recalls (Yolen, 9). She sympathizes with her Gemma and is curious about the past life.
The different placements of details in the story are interspersed throughout the narrative as if to give a dreamlike or surreal fairy tale feel to the novel.
The mist in Gemma's version of the fairy tale stands, in the first place, for the exhaust gas used to kill the Holocaust victims at Chelmno.
Symbolism appears throughout the novel to describe different events. Such as the briars representing walls, barbed fences and sometimes trees that kept the prisoners captive. The barbed wire was described as thicket that could not be breached (Yolen, 167).
The sleep that came over those in the castle was the sleep of death, not like in Sleeping Beauty where it was temporary.
There were multiple hidden meanings in the symbolism as well such as the mist that surrounded the castle or camp being…