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Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is a heart-wrenching story of Sleeping Beauty intertwined with the horrors of World War II. The novel contains all the elements of the classic Sleeping Beauty: the castle, thorns, princess, and a tale of death and awakening from eternal sleep. Yolen compared a story that fictitiously occurred during World War II with Sleeping Beauty, which allowed one of the main characters, Gitl Mandelstein, to indirectly tell her horrifying experiences during the war. The story beings with Gitl, or Gemma (as she is referred to by her granddaughters), in a nursing home.
Her granddaughters Silvia, Shauna, and Becca went to visit her, for she was on her deathbed. She began telling them the story of Sleeping Beauty, a story which she had told them throughout their childhood, although this time was different. She told her grandchildren that she was in fact Briar Rose. Gemma did not go into detail, but made her granddaughter Becca promise to discover everything about her past. This is shown in the following quote: "Promise me you will find the castle.
Promise me you will find the prince. Promise me you will find the maker of the spells" (Yolen 20). Soon after, Gitl died. Throughout Briar Rose Yolen depicts Becca's struggles to uncover the truth about her Gemma's connection to Sleeping Beauty. She had so many unanswered questions. Was her Gemma a princess?
Did she live in a castle? Who was her prince? The only thing Gitl had left behind was a small box of papers with very few answers. Becca did end up finding all her answers from a man named Josef, who had actually known and interacted with Gitl.
After a trip to Poland to speak with Josef, Becca figured out that the fairy tale her grandmother told was in fact a tale of horror. The castle Gitl described to her grandchildren was in fact an extermination camp, Chelmno. The thicket of thorns which surrounded the castle in which the princess slept represented the barbed wire that surrounded the camp. Gitl was thought to have been dead, and therefore her body was discarded. Some refugees, which included Josef, had escaped from various extermination camps. They discovered the horrifying pit full of bodies in an attempt to rescue other refugees held in Chelmno, and saw one body slightly moving.
That was Gitl Mandelstein. They brought her out of the pit, and Josef administered CPR. That "kiss of life" awoke Gitl, and she had no memories; only that she had been awakened by a kiss, another comparison to Sleeping Beauty. Briar Rose is a novel with a very dark theme. It is set mainly in the present, but the author often uses the flashback technique to show past events that are of extreme importance to the novel. A quote that depicts the dark theme of the novel is: "Five thousand corpses?
Josef murmured, still not believing" (Yolen 149). That quote is also an example of the flashback technique. Josef was recalling a horrifying experience during World War II. Symbolism is a technique greatly used in this novel.
The story of the sleeping beauty Briar Rose symbolizes the actual story of Gitl's near death experiences throughout World War II. Another technique that Yolen used was onomatopoeia: .".. fear and anticipation so mingled with the wish of the rocking seat being lifted, that the story was forgotten" (129). The use of the word wish describes the sound of a rocking seat on a ferris wheel. Repetition is also used. "The music still played" (Yolen 142) was repeatedly used on one page of the novel. This quote symbolized the fact that even though many horrors were occurring throughout the world during World War II, the music still played and life went on as normal.
It is a very powerful quote that was stressed by repetition in the novel. The symbolism technique was also used for this quote. In conclusion, Briar Rose was a very depressing story of World War II. It was very well told, and Yolen used a very interesting approach by comparing a story of World War II to Sleeping Beauty.
It allowed the reader to be informed of some of the horrors that occurred during World War II, while not being overly depressing like many other novels covering this subject. Briar Rose will leave you with a different outlook on World War II that you never knew you could have. Work Cited Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose. New York: Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1993.
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