The Holocaust Aftermath in “The Shawl” and “Afterimage”

In my paper, I am going to study the motif of disappearance in the stories by Patrick Modiano and Cynthia Ozick. Because both authors were born after the Holocaust has ended, these novels cannot be considered memoirist. On the other hand, the subject of the aftermath of the Holocaust in these texts can offer unique perspectives as the stories represent the reverberations of the terror after it has long been gone.

The Holocaust has left a non-erasable imprint in literature and affected many authors, Jewish as well as non-Jewish. The motif of hiding and disappearing can be traced in a multitude of works, developed in various directions. In some texts, the disappearance is densely intertwined with panic and being hunted down, with the Jews depicted as prey. In others, the disappearance of people and the whole settlements are the result of the terror and violence that Nazism brought. In the stories I am going to study, the motif of disappearance is traceable as the last instance, the only way out. The short novella “Afterimage,” as well as the simple yet powerful narrative of “The Shawl,” feature characters that fade into the distance as the plot evolves. From the perspective of “The Shawl,” the reader can see disappearance in order to hide and survive, and the nearer death comes, the subtler the characters appear. The narrative features the shawl as a symbol of a place to hide, the last resort, and demonstrates the vulnerability of the characters once it is taken away from them. The magic of disappearance, here, is not powerful enough to hide everyone, and fatalities are inescapable (Ozick n.pag.). The novella “Afterimage” has a tell-tale title that speaks of the character of whom nothing but an obsolete visual perception remains. The images of the past, imprinted in the photographs, can also be regarded as parts of the motif of disappearance so as to collect and revive the phantom reminiscences that are ever so elusive. The photographer fails at that, and the trauma of the Holocaust and the urge to hide overlaps his longing for the past, which is why he has no other way than to fade into the background (Modiano n.pag.).

Works Cited

Modiano, Patrick. “Afterimage.” Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas. Trans. Mark

Polizzotti. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Print.

Ozick, Cynthia. The Shawl. New York, NY: Knopf, 1989. Print.