Metaphor??”a literary technique used to clarify the “darkness inside a cloud” (Selection 2). The power of metaphor is utilized throughout the world of language on a daily basis to clarify, explain, and act as a moral instrument. Metaphor can be described, as it was by Cynthia Ozick, author of The Shawl, as “the mind’s opposable thumb”: Just as one cannot grasp objects without an opposable thumb, one can also not write successfully without the aid of metaphor (Selection 1).
Metaphor evidently has great power in literature; it can define a problem, stimulate he imagination, manage change, and affect how a person thinks and interprets in reference to certain events. Metaphor possesses great literary power whether it is being used in a speech by a politician or by the Sumerians thousands of years ago, and because the fundamental tool is so powerful, it can have both negative and positive effects on a reader.
To exemplify the power of metaphor, Cynthia Ozick wrote The Shawl, a touching story of holocaust survivor Rosa Lublin, showing how the broken woman copes with having her life taken from her after the tragedies she endured. These catastrophes include the death of her infant daughter, Magda, and most distinctly the loss of her happiness and will to live. Cynthia Ozicks use of metaphor in The Shawl was very efficacious, providing the reader with a connection to the writing, a deeper meaning and understanding of the literature, and lastly evoking great emotion.
First of all, Ozicks use of metaphor is so successful in The Shawl because it made the reader feel a unique connection to the literature that would not have been attained otherwise. Just as a metaphor connects two differing objects to be related in single comparison, a metaphor connects two different worlds: the reader and the writer. A descriptive metaphor allows the reader to relate something they have never experienced with something much more familiar to them, like a stick and an emaciated arm for example. The connection that metaphors provide is essential to the comprehension of any given novel.
As explained by renowned author, Maxine Green, in her essay “Metaphors and Responsibility’, a connection with literature is necessary because then “those who have no pain can imagine those who suffer” (Selection 3). Without any sort of connection made through metaphor, it would be very difficult for the reader of a novel to relate to the events, especially if the events were as drastically tragic as something like the Holocaust in The Shawl. In The Shawl, Ozick begins to form a connection with her reader by vividly describing characters like Rosa and settings to make the reader feel as if they can see and feel what the characters are.
When the book begins, Rosa, her daughter, Magda, and her niece, Stella, are all walking on the roads in the freezing cold, all three of the girls aptured inside of a German concentration camp. Rosa had been able to keep her infant daughter alive for a very long time by hiding her, but one day, Rosa proclaims that she knew Magda was going to die soon. Ozick describes the feeling inside of Rosa at this moment by stating, “A fearful Joy ran in Rosa’s two palms, her fingers were on fire… Magda [was] in the sunlight howling” (Ozick 7).
By describing the exact Rosa felt. While not every person may be able to connect with the idea of a fearful Joy running through their palms, most people can relate to the heat of the fire as well as he howling of a dog. Not only does Magda’s howling provide a reference point for the reader to relate to the sound to, but it also metaphorically displays the animalistic qualities humans began to acquire once in the concentration camps, thus further permitting the reader to connect to the experience and feelings of the characters in the novel.
In addition to a deep connection with the events of the novel overall, the metaphors Ozick used in her writing provided for a deeper understanding of the meaning behind The Shawl. One of Ozicks main goals while writing The Shawl was learly to raise an awareness of the Holocaust in a more emotionally triggering way. As according to an interviewer from Atlantic Monthly in 1997, “[metaphor] makes it the power to envision the stranger’s heart” (Selection 1). Metaphors feed on the personal experiences of each individual reader in order to allow for Judgments to be made and therefore draw up a relationship with the writer (“The Presence and”).
This relationship and connection mentioned prior allows the reader to understand novels like The Shawl on a much deeper level, which Ozick realized was necessary in order o really get through to readers what an emotionally-scarring experience the concentration camps were. Ozick begins conveying her point very early on in the novel, starting off with her description of Stella, Rosa Lublin’s niece. While oftentimes readers today would picture a “skinny’ girl as someone they see in a fashion magazine, Ozick made it clear as to how horrific the Holocaust truly was using the strategy of metaphor.
Stella, having not had a true meal in ages, had knees that “were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones” (3). By using such sickening and vivid etaphors that the reader can clearly imagine in their head, Ozick allowed for her audience to truly understand the horrendous nature of the concentration camps on a much deeper level than they would have been able to if Ozick had described Stella as merely thin. Metaphors provide an insight that adjectives simply cannot provide, and this was again shown when Ozick described Magda as an infant struggling for life, since “the spindles of her legs could not hold up her belly, fat with air” (5).
Yet again, Ozick uses disturbing metaphors to not Just tell the reader what Magda looks like, but nstead to show them. Because of the metaphors used by Ozick, the reader is able to picture thin spindles carrying a large, air-filled balloon as Magda, thus being able to clearly comprehend why everyone at the camps was fighting against death day by day regardless of their age. After Ozick is finished showing the reader the brutality at the concentration camps, she spends a great amount of time using metaphors to show Just how damaged Rosa is after her experience in the Holocaust.
Ozick mentions that Rosa had moved to a hotel in Miami, which any reader would think to e a luxurious vacation away from Rosa’s past life during the Nazi occupation. Instead of enjoying Miami, Ozick conveys Just how damaged Rosa is by explaining, “She panted like a dog in the sun… even the trees looked exhausted” (28). Because of her experience facing the death of her daughter, Magda, especially, it is clear that Rosa can no longer see the good in life, mostly because she does not believe that there is any.
Without having to say Rosa lost her will to live, Ozick was able to use to interpret Rosa’s broken state on their own. Because Ozick allowed the reader to eel how broken Rosa was deep inside, she did not need to simply tell the reader the facts. This allows for a more profound understanding between the writer and the reader to be established overall. Lastly and arguably most obviously, Ozick???s use of metaphor is very powerful because it evokes a great deal of emotion in the reader.
Metaphor has a lot to do with empathy, and as established in Norton’s anthology of Jewish American writers, metaphor also gives the reader “the capacity to look through another’s eyes” (Selection 3). With an event as universally heartbreaking as the Holocaust, Ozick as easily able to induce a sense of pity in the reader using metaphor. The immense amount of description in Ozicks metaphors makes the reader feel as if they are in Rosa or Stella’s situation while they are at the camp, and this is clearly displayed when Magda dies in the beginning of the novel.
After the Nazis at the concentration camp discover Magda, the Nazi soldier’s automatic reaction is to kill the infant as soon as possible. To do so, the soldier flings weightless Magda at the buzzing electric fence. Instead of explaining the event flatly and without emotion, Ozick uses almost n excessive amount of metaphor to appeal to all of the reader’s senses. Because Ozick does this, a very emotional response is triggered in the reader, almost as if they were Magda’s mother having to witness the scene firsthand.
The scene is extremely horrific, since after the Nazi guard carelessly flings Magda toward the fence, “she looked like a butterfly touching a silver vine… the moment Magda’s feathered round head and her pencil legs and balloonish belly and zigzag arms splashed against the fence, the steel voices went mad in their growling” (10). Through the power of Ozicks etaphors in this section, the reader is placed into the shoes of Rosa, watching their precious baby be killed by the German guard as if she was nothing but a stuffed doll.
If not for metaphor in this section, the reader would not have been able to connect so deeply on an emotional level, and this lack of connection would only stunt the insightful meaning of the story overall. And so, the power of metaphor in Cynthia Ozicks work The Shawl is very strong, powerful, and necessary. Without such metaphors, the reader would not feel a deep connection to the writing, would not understand the Holocaust and its aftermath to he same extent, and finally would not feel as emotionally attached as most readers do feel by the end of the novel.
Whether the reader realizes it or not, the reason it was so easy to be absorbed into The Shawl was because of the relatable and intense metaphors. Metaphors today have become so common and habitual for a reason, and that reason is because of the great power they possess. Whether a metaphor makes you infuriated, upset, ecstatic, or regretful, metaphors always serve some significant purpose, and Ozicks powerful metaphors were no exception to this idea.