The Shawl Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 2 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 Survival and Its Consequences and The Power and Danger of Imagination.
Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl is actually two separate (though interrelated) narratives: a short story set during the Holocaust, and a novella set roughly 40 years later in Miami, Florida. In the short story, also titled “The Shawl,” a young Jewish woman named Rosa Lublin is sent with her niece Stella and her infant daughter Magda to a concentration camp. Against all odds, Magda survives much longer than her mother expects, thanks largely to the shawl Rosa wraps her in, shielding her from the view of the camp guards and providing her with something to suck on after Rosa loses the ability to breastfeed. Stella, however, is jealous of Rosa’s devotion to her daughter and eventually steals the shawl from Magda to use as a blanket. Distraught, Magda wanders out of the camp barracks, where she is spotted by a camp guard. Before Rosa can reach her daughter, the guard throws Magda against the camp’s electric fence, killing her.
The novella, “Rosa,” picks up this story more than 30 years later. Rosa has recently moved to Miami after tearing apart the antique store she had previously run in New York City. She is financially dependent on Stella (who lives in New York), but otherwise has virtually no contact with anyone. Instead, she isolates herself in her small and dingy hotel room and devotes herself to fantasies of her dead daughter.
One day, Rosa is forced to make a trip to the laundromat, where she meets a flirtatious old man named Simon Persky. Persky ignores Rosa’s obvious disdain for him and takes her to a kosher cafeteria for tea, chatting all the while.
Back home, Rosa collects her mail: a package she assumes contains Magda’s shawl, and letters from Stella and a Dr. James W. Tree. Angered by Dr. Tree’s wish to interview her about her experiences during the Holocaust, Rosa ventures back out into the city to look for a pair of underwear she has discovered is missing. She becomes more resentful and paranoid as she walks around Miami, convinced that Persky or someone else has stolen her clothing on purpose. Back at her hotel, Rosa finds Persky waiting for her and reluctantly invites him up for tea. While talking to him, she shyly attempts to show him Magda’s shawl, only to discover that the package actually contains a book by Dr. Tree.
The next day, Rosa receives the package with the shawl in it, which causes Magda to “ to life” (64). As she often does, Rosa composes a letter to Magda; by the time she finishes it, her daughter’s presence is already fading. The phone rings and the hotel receptionist says Persky is asking for her, and Rosa irritably agrees he can come up.