The Shawl Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

''The Shawl'' dramatizes the horrors of the Holocaust in relatively few words. These questions can help your students tackle the events, themes, tone, and meaning of this short story.

The Shawl

The Shawl is a 1980 short story by American author Cynthia Ozick. The success of the short story also inspired a longer, novella-length examination of the narrative by the same name. The short story captures the horrors of the Holocaust in some of the most disarmingly and heartbreakingly human terms imaginable. It can be a difficult story to read, so a class discussion is a good way to help your students through it. These questions can help guide a discussion about The Shawl, but are also easily adaptable to your class' needs.

Questions about Characters and Plot

  • How does Cynthia Ozick describe each of the main characters?
    • How are each represented?
  • Why do you think the author chooses to present so few characters by name?
    • What impact does this have on the story?
    • What does it tell us about the characters themselves?
  • Is the shawl a character in The Shawl? Why or why not?
    • How is it described, especially in comparison to Rosa?
  • What happens in The Shawl?
    • What was life like for people that were sent to one of the camps during the Holocaust?
  • What are the major plot points of The Shawl?
    • How do each of these points contribute to the narrative?
  • How does the author build tension in this story?
  • Why doesn't Rosa give Magda away to someone else?
    • Why is Rosa hiding Magda?
    • What is her predicament?
  • How does Stella fit into this?
    • What does Rosa think about Stella?
  • The story mentions that Stella has a cold heart. Where do we see this?
    • Is Stella the only one with a cold heart?
    • How does Rosa treat Stella, a young girl?
  • If this story was written from Stella's perspective, how would it be different?
  • Why do you think the author chose to end the story the way she did?

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