Yolen enlightens and inspires responders through the use of structure, language and other techniques. The novel Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is a heart wrenching story of sleeping beauty intertwined with the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. The structure of the novel is altered in a way to interweave three stories including Gemma’s Briar Rose fairy tale, Becca’s quest and Josef’s story. The use of language techniques explores the idea of the characters as it gives an understanding of their circumstances and the situations they experience.
Some of the techniques Yolen uses to enlighten responders is the use of other techniques such as allegory and symbolism which acts as a metaphor in which one story represents another. The structure of Briar Rose is interweaved with three main stories: Gemma’s fairytale, Becca’s quest and Josef’s experience of the holocaust. Two parallel stories are developed simultaneously as Becca realises that Gemma’s version of her Briar Rose tale is actually a metaphor for Gemma’s life. The placement and segments of the never-completed fairy story at intervals throughout the narrative adds suspense and mystery.
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Gemma’s story is told to the readers most through her own unusual retelling of the original briar rose fairy tale. As in all good fairy tales, the older sisters, are at times unsympathetic to hearing this same favourite story repeated countess times. It is the youngest of the three sisters, Becca, who shows the required goodness and empathy. To her, the storytelling is not only the essence of her childhood, but also the nature of her grandmothers past of its mysterious and aristocratic origins. The placement of segments of the never-completed fairy tale at intervals through the narrative adds suspense and mystery to the novel.
More importantly the fairy tale references deepen to the story of Gemma’s holocaust sufferings. Yolen also uses intertextuality to structure her novel. The story tells a narrative in the present, but flashbacks are added in the form of a fairytale. In the story, Josef Potocki takes the narrative into his own way of storytelling. He is the witness, the key to the mystery of who Gemma really was and where she had come from. Yet he tells the events in third person as if he were only a storyteller and not one of the characters. He had been in the opposite position of Becca as he knew the beginning of the story but not the end.
The parallelism is satisfying to the reader as both Becca and Josef receive the answers to what they have wanted to know. The narrative is divided into three sections: Home, The Castle and Home Again. At the end, in similarity with all fairy tales, there is a happy ending foretold by Stan (Becca’s prince) after he greets her with a long and very satisfactory kiss “We’ll get to happily ever after eventually. ” The use of language by Yolen also enlightens responders. She adapts her language use to the situations and speakers in different sections of the novel.
For example, spare and heroic language is used by Josef Potocki in the ‘The Castle’ section of the book. Here he recounts the life of the partisans and the Princess’s part in it, her rescue from Chelmno, marriage, pregnancy and escape after the violent death of her young husband Aron, also known as Avenger. Potocki speaks as the well-educated, cosmopolitan (multi-ethnic) observer. A voice inside him said “We rescue one, they kill one thousand. Still, one is enough” and he understood why Henrik and his followers cared more about making a powerful story than life itself (P181).
Repetition and echoing of key motifs reinforce the message of the novel. The one person to one thousand contrasts recalls the death toll of Chelmno camp “One day, one thousand dead (ein tag, ein tausend). The idioms of everyday American speech in a middle-class domestic situation are used in showing the events and relationships of the Berlin family. In contrast to the conversations of Becca and Stan, usually presented as straight dialogue, the discussions among the three sisters are conventionally presented, often with “she said” and other interpolations to give explicitly the emotional level of the sister’s disagreements.
Madga, the Polish student who acts as Becca’s guide to the death camp site speaks fluent English but at times awkward English “Oh, they are much in appreciation” she says when given a pair of jeans. Contrast between the formal, traditional language of the fairy tale and childish, informal chatter is shown when the children comment or question as Gemma proceeds with her Briar Rose fairy tale story telling. Her contrast revisiting of just this one fairy tale shows the reader that while her conscious memory has buries the details of her past horrors, she cannot help returning to the fairy tale allegory.
Contrast is also shown between the warm, happy imagery of life in the Berlin house and the bleak, harsh details of the holocaust. Other techniques such as symbolism and allegory are used to enlighten and inspire responders. Yolen uses many symbolism techniques to convey her ideas throughout the novel. The mist in Gemma/s version of the fairy tale represents the exhaust gas used to kill the holocaust victims at Chelmno. The Briars stand for the walls, fences and even trees the prisoners were enclosed by. They strongly suggest barbed wire. The sleep of the people of the castle if the sleep of death – it goes forever.
However, symbols may have a cluster of connotations. The mist may also represent the imperfect knowledge Gemma and her family has of the events of her past which they only dimly understand. The briars can also represent the difficulties to be overcome by love to reach the desired object. The sleep also perhaps suggests a lack of consciousness about what was going on. The rose of the title is the symbol of beauty and love, which survives through the thorny briars, and is the motivating force of the whole tale, forcing Becca to carry out her promise to find the castle in the sleeping woods (P19).
Her research reveals that Gemma’s survival and her daughter’s existence have both been made possible by the love of Aron and Josef. Yolen is not merely making use of symbols to tell her Holocaust narrative. She has constructed the whole story as an allegory (whole story itself is symbolic to a fairytale). The major idea of the novel is the telling of Gemma’s version of the fairy tale of Briar Rose. Her personal story, with the handsome prince, the kiss of life, the briars, even the hundred years of sleep (death) corresponds with the original narrative.
We need to understand the original fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty to understand what has happened to Gemma and thousands like her. The Briar Rose tale is thus an allegory of Gemma’s life. Although she cannot recall the details of her past (the gas gave her an after-affect of her forgetting her past) she needs to pass this story on to her descendants (Becca, Sylvia and Shana) and uses the fairy tale to do so. Yolen has added strands from the typical fairy tales to enrich the story. For example, Becca is on a quest like many quest heroes and she is the third and youngest child, the one whose heart is the truest.
Finally, the “happily ever after” ending of the fairy tale relates the whole novel back onto distinctive fairy tales as a motif. In conclusion, the novel Briar Rose can enlighten and inspire responders through Jane Yolen’s techniques of structure, language and other techniques such as the use of allegory and symbolism. As it informs the readers of the horrors of the holocaust we as responders can counter the experiences of the victims through the fiction characters of Briar Rose.
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
- Length: 975 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Jane Yolen's use of structure in the novel Briar Rose is very clever. Her use of allegory and the technique of parallel narrative is very effective in conveying her story which she delivers in a superb fashion. Elements of the story are reveled at specific times to tie in with the theme of growth and development both personal and historical.
The use of allegory drives the story along. It is a constant reminder of The Holocaust to ensure the reader is not too captivated by the fairy tale element of the novel. The use of allegory grounds the novel, gives it a sense of realism. Whilst the story Yolen tells is fictional the setting in which they exist is not. By using true elements in the building and development of characters they are made believable. Characters in this story are not perfect and have many flaws and imperfections, an example of this are the fact that the character of Josef is a homosexual. It is a far cry from the stereotypical prince that is perfect in every way.
Through Josef's homosexuality it demonstrates an important fact about the Holocaust which is rarely touched, the common misconception that only those of Jewish were targeted when in actuality several other minorities were targeted, such as homosexuals, Gypsies, and the disabled (mental and physical).
The courage and strength expressed in the parallel tales help to develop the characters and different themes simultaneously. These tales bring with them the struggle of the human spirit overcoming adversity but at the same time makes the characters humble and portrays them not as heroes but as ordinary people, surviving against almost certain death, people just trying to live. By Yolen making the characters so real she is able to never let the story soar into pure fantasy.
The tale of Sleeping Beauty which is told throughout Briar Rose is initially an innocent story told by a grandmother to her grandchildren. We soon realize that this is not the case and it is, in actuality, the events of the character Gemma's life compressed into a single tale. Gemma did this because the true tale, in all its glory, was far too brutal to tell any one, particularly her family. Yolen uses allegory predominantly in Gemma's rendition of Sleeping Beauty. This quote from Gemma's Sleeping Beauty "without further warning, a mist covered the entire kingdom" is an obvious reference to the toxic gas used to slaughter millions of innocent people in the Nazi Germany ethnic cleansing regime.
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The novel itself contains three distinct narratives: The tale of Sleeping Beauty, which is told by Gemma through the extracts in the novel, and the story of Becca and tale of discovery and of adventure. Josef's narrative, which is the most essential narrative as it answers all the questions the reader acquires during the reading of the novel.
The tale of Sleeping Beauty provides a fitting contrast to the atrocity of the Holocaust against the dreamy fairytale of Princes and Princesses. This is effective in developing themes and characters throughout the entire novel. The fairytale itself is some what darker than the "Sleeping Beauty" today's society is used to, this is done to show the inexorable wounds which all Holocaust survivors bear. The extracts of the story coincide with themes and symbols of the story of Becca's quest for knowledge of the past. An example of this is the extract in which Gemma talks of "thorns as sharp as barbs" is followed by the chapter in which Becca discovers that her Grandmother was in Fort Oswego (Oswego was a refugee camp with a barbed wire fence surrounding the perimeter). Not only this, but she finds out that her Gemma was known as Kzienska, meaning princess in polish. Kzienska, the princess behind the barbed wire, the rose past the thorns, the beauty in the horror are all references to Sleeping Beauty and at the same time refer to the brutal period in Gemma's life that was the Holocaust.
Becca sets of on a journey to discover the true meaning of the story of Sleeping Beauty. After several dead ends and leads that dried up with little information being discovered Becca finds her way to Poland and eventually to a man named Josef Potoki. This leads her to discover in depth the story of her grandmother and its makes her come to the realization how lucky she is to have a close and loving family and most of all to live in a prejudice free society.
Josef's story is shocking and at times unbelievable it is however a very true indication of times for minorities during the Holocaust. Gemma past is uncovered after we hear Josef's story, we no longer think of her as just a grandma with a repetitive fable but of a survivor, of a brave warrior who chose to live. Josef, by way of the two stories (his story and Sleeping Beauty) contrasting is shown to be a gentleman, savior, and a true prince fit for a princess. The idea of him being called the prince and him being in fact the man who wakes Gemma with the kiss of life is important and extremely clever; it symbolizes Josef's personal growth as he puts his own dignity and self preservation on the line to save one soul from a pile dead rotting corpses.
Jane Yolen tells an interesting version of an age old tale. She puts a new perspective on the way we view the atrocity that was the holocaust and she even manages to do it in a very heartwarming way. Yolen uses her techniques well both allegory and the parallel narrative to breathe life and compassion into the novel. I would like to end this essay with a quote, someone else has already said it best on the front page "this tale is indeed heart warming and heartbreaking".