Representing children at play in literature of the Sho'ah

2003 2003

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Abstract (summary)

Children use their play to make sense of the world around them; children in the works I explore engage in play in order to make sense of their changed lives amidst and after the Sho'ah. This study assumes that studying representations of children at play in the Sho'ah is crucial to our understanding of childhood, human response to crisis, and their nexus in the “play of representation.” I take literature about children, for children, and by children as sources for exploring play as a meaning-making strategy of children in the Sho'ah (and of those who write about them). When I write of children making meaning of their Sho'ah experiences, I do not mean children searching for and finding life-affirming lessons in their loss. Children engaged in meaning making, rather, are creating what Langer calls a “framework for responding” (Literary Imagination 12). They use play to protest the miseries they encounter, to endure their altered circumstances, and to distract themselves from cold, hunger and boredom. Play helps them to explain the puzzling things they see, to defend themselves against debilitating psychic wounds, and to respond to their Sho'ah experiences in their post-Sho'ah lives.

Works examined include Louis Begley's Wartime Lies, Uri Orlev's The Sandgame and Island on Bird Street , Yitschok Rudashevski's Diary of the Vilna Ghetto, Jana Renée Friesová's Fortress of My Youth, David Grossman's See Under: Love, Myron Levoy's Alan and Naomi, and the 1948 Yiddish Film Unzere Kinder. Looking at representations of children's play in three bodies of literature—that which adults read, that which children read and that which children themselves write—together with accounts of children in film and in historical documents, studies of children and trauma from psychiatric literature, and a variety of literary theory, will make clear how discussion of each opens out onto the others. The various disciplines inform one another in unexpected and insightful ways. Special challenges of representing children are addressed, including negotiating the child's marginal status, his “otherness,” evoking the child's voice both realistically and understandably, and managing the rhetoric of sentimentality that often surrounds adults' regard of children.

Indexing (details)

0298: Literature
Identifier / keyword
Language, literature and linguistics; Children; Holocaust; Jewish; Play; Sho'ah
Representing children at play in literature of the Sho'ah
Wheeler, Catherine
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 64/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Young, James E.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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