The Cage Summary and Study Guide

Ruth Minsky Sender

The Cage

  • 71-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 48 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree
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The Cage Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 71-page guide for “The Cage” by Ruth Minsky Sender includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 48 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Humanity and Community Memory and Motherhood.

Plot Summary

The Cage is the 1986 memoir of Ruth Minsky Sender, nee Riva Minska, detailing her family’s struggle to survive the Holocaust. Born in Lodz, Poland, Riva inhabits a close-knit community that integrates both Jews and non-Jews through shared traditions and intergenerational spaces. When Hitler’s Nazis invade Poland, thirteen-year-old Riva watches this peace crumble, as non-Jewish friends accept her family’s persecution and as Jews themselves adopt positions of power that hurt others in the community.

After Riva’s mother is taken, and her youngest brother, Laibele, contracts tuberculosis, Riva becomes a de facto mother for all three of her younger brothers, Motele, Moishele, and Laibele. With her mother’s courageous example, wise words, and loving spirit to inspire her, Riva tries to give hope to others as often as she can, a favor that those friends return for her when her own hope fails. As life in the Lodz ghetto grows tougher, Riva’s gall stones suffer, and her younger brothers work courageously to find antidotes for her illness. Just as neighbors like Moishe and Yulek care for and inspire Riva and her siblings, so, too, do the Minskas watch out for their friends and neighbors, risking their lives to protect others from the secret police.

When they move to a new apartment in the ghetto, the Minska siblings offer to move the clandestine ghetto library into their own home. Riva, a well-educated woman who loves language and records her experiences in a journal each day for her absent family members, relies on these books to fuel her courage and connect her to cultural tradition. The books bolster spirits in the ghetto, and they encourage, in Riva, an appreciation for beauty and the desire to write.

Slowly, the starvation becomes too much to take. Laibele passes away, overtaken by tuberculosis. The remaining Minska siblings decide to leave their home and library and give themselves up to the Nazis, who will take them to labor camps. First, they are taken to Auschwitz, where the boys are pulled to one side and the girls to another; Riva will never see her brothers again. After one week in the horrifying camp, Riva and some other girls from her neighborhood are moved to Mittelsteine.

At Mittelsteine, the young women work in a factory, preparing tools. Riva, who is too small to work the machine, helps a team of men who dig a bomb shelter. All the while, the other young women in the camp work to collect resources so that Riva can continue to write her poems, which inspire the others around her. When Riva cuts her hand in the factory and the cut grows dangerously infected, the morale-boosting poems Riva writes are her salvation: the camp doctor and the camp elder, Helen, convince the commandant to seek medical attention to save Riva, who lifts the spirits of so many other prisoners.

Just as the war ends, Riva and her friend, Tola, among others, are transported to Grafenort. Each night at Grafenort, troops march them to land where they dig trenches for the German army. One day, the troops begin to march them toward the woods, where they plan to execute the young women. When one soldier spreads the word that the Russians are approaching, the soldiers disperse, leaving the young women alone and, it seems, free. Days later, a Russian Jewish officer and his soldiers come upon the camp, where they are shocked to find any Jews still alive.

Both at the beginning and the end of this story, Riva, now a mother living in America, speaks to her daughter, Nancy, about the horrors of the Holocaust. Her mother’s hope, embodied in the phrase “As long as there is life, there is hope,” helped her to persist through the prosecution. Now, Riva explains, she continues to write, telling her story so that the world will not forget or repeat these horrors.

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Chapter 1