The Devil's Arithmetic Summary and Analysis

Chapters 7 to 9

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Summary

Chapter 7

Hannah entertains the girls with stories like Star Wars, Little Women, and the aforementioned Yentl. The girls are mesmerized, following her every word. Hannah realizes that she has a gift for telling stories. Aaron used to listen to her stories as well but she has never had such a large audience. Suddenly, she is the popular girl, something she never was before. Here, she is appreciated. Hannah realizes that she is still herself but that to everyone else there she is Chaya. She continues to regale the girls with stories as they walk behind the wagons.

Hannah's stories are interrupted by the sound of klezmer instruments up ahead. The pace begins to quicken. The musicians make their way down the procession and Shmuel begins to dance joyfully. Everyone begins singing and Chaya is asked to join in. Hannah says she doesn't know the words, but quickly finds the words coming out of her mouth anyway.

Up ahead the girls notice a badchan, or comedian. Fayge's father must have a good deal of money to hire one. The girls tell Hannah that they heard Fayge fell in love with Shmuel on sight and decided she must be with him. She married him out of love. None of this is surprising to Hannah. The girls explain that in most cases a shadchan, a matchmaker, arranges weddings for couples according to their parents' wishes. Few marry for love.

The badchan approaches the girls and sings a kind of rhyme to entertain them. Upon learning Chaya's name, he tells her that her name means "life" before departing. He also calls her an "old girl in young girl disguise." The girls discuss what the badchan told them but Hannah watches the man closely. She decides that he reminds her of a court jester. The idea of a Jewish jester makes her laugh out loud, and without knowing why the other girls join in the laughter.

Chapter 8

More people emerge to greet the coming wedding guests and suddenly the forest is alive with chatter. Hannah thinks of her own family in New Rochelle and has to fight back tears. Gitl leads her to a wagon, where she sees a beautiful woman in white with jet black hair. Hannah thinks she looks like a movie star. Gitl introduces the woman as Fayge, Shmuel's soon-to-be wife. Fayge extends her hand and pulls Hannah up into the wagon with her and begins to ask her about Lublin.

The wagon turns around and heads toward Viosk, Fayge's village. Outside Hannah can hear the children singing a song, the same song that Shmuel was singing when she opened the door to let in Elijah. The song is called "Sherele." Fayge thinks it is too gloomy for a wedding song. She admits to being sad to leave Viosk and a bit afraid as well. Hannah laughs and tells her that Shmuel is nervous, too. A bond begins to grow between Chaya and Fayge.

Soon they arrive in Viosk. Ahead Fayge sees some cars and army trucks parked in front of the synagogue. She asks her father, Reb Boruch, what surprises he has planned. He replies that he knows nothing of these vehicles. Hannah looks at the vehicles closely and knows something is wrong. A man emerges from the synagogue. He is dressed in black military garb and has silver medals that gleam in the light on his uniform. He opens the car door for another similarly dressed man. Hannah begins to panic. She asks Reb Boruch what year it is. He tells her it is the year 5701. Hannah becomes hysterical. How can it be the future, she asks. Shmuel interjects that Chaya has been this way since she was ill. Reb Boruch realizes that Chaya is referring to the Christian calendar, in which case the year is 1942. Hannah realizes immediately where she is and the danger they are in. The badchan points at the men and says he sees the Angel of Death. She tells Reb Boruch that the men in front of them are Nazis and that they will kill them all if they do not run away. Reb Boruch tells her that she should not fear mere men, only God. As they approach, more soldiers emerge and form a semi-circle to block their way.

Chapter 9

Rabbi Boruch, Shmuel, and another man whom Hannah does not know approach the Nazi colonel. A tense conversation ensues but Hannah is not close enough to hear it. When it is over, Reb Boruch announces that the soldiers are there to relocate all Jews to other villages for the duration of the war. They are all to board the trucks and be resettled immediately. Hannah reiterates that they cannot go and that if they do they will be put to death. Her concerns are quickly dismissed by the adults; Rachel reminds them that Chaya had told them about a story called Hansel and Gretel and that she is mixing up the witch's oven and the oven she believes the Nazis will put them in. Hannah sees that no one will believe her story.

The Nazi colonel informs them that their relatives in Viosk have already been relocated. Reb Boruch calms the concerned crowd and tells them that God will provide. He begins to say a prayer aloud. All join in, including Hannah.

They board the trucks and set out on roads leading them far from Viosk. To calm the children, Gitl begins to sing a lullaby. When that does not work she instead begins to sing about a chaper, a kidnapper who steals men to fight in the army. Hannah notes that the song is not really one to calm children but instead sounds angry. As the trucks move on, the song spreads from one truck to another. Hannah feels sick but is insistent on not throwing up. She opens her mouth and joins in the song.

Analysis

The character of the badchan has an interesting function. Here, he is hired as a comedian for Shmuel and Fayge's wedding. His interaction with Hannah suggests that he is also something of a mystic or seer. He tells her that she is an "old girl in young girl disguise," suggesting that he can see that Hannah is inhabiting dual identities. The badchan is also one of the first to express his distrust toward the Nazi officers and soldiers who order the villagers aboard the trucks. Once again, he seems able to see things as they really are.

Reb Boruch is a man of faith and as such, he places all of his hopes and fears in the hands of a higher power. Hope and faith are major themes in the novel. Rather than give in to fear of the Nazis, he tells Hannah not to fear mere men, only to fear God. While the scene tragically captures the Rabbi's ignorance of what is to come, heightening the importance of Hannah's warning, this theme is revisited again later in the novel. Rivka tells Hannah in a similar moment of frustration that all the horrors they are enduring are part of God's plan. While this is certainly frustrating to Hannah, she seems to make peace with it, enough so to willingly sacrifice herself to save another.

Hannah finds that no one will believe her about the danger they are in. Her stories about the gas ovens are quickly dismissed as being derived from fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel. This highlights the incomprehensible evil that the Holocaust embodied. It is not difficult for us to understand how the others Hannah tries to warn would not believe such stories, as they seem beyond possibility. The sheer size of such an abhorrent undertaking only added to its tragedy.

Gitl and some of the other villagers seem to have some inkling that they are in danger. The children are scared and something doesn't seem right. To calm the frightened children, Gitl begins to sing a song. Gitl proves to be one of the pillars of her community and is one of the few characters to survive the Holocaust. She earns a nickname: Gitl the Bear, for her toughness and directness. Hannah notices that Gitl switches to another song that isn't so much soothing as it is angry. The song is about a kidnapper who comes in the night to kidnap young boys and men for military service. They certainly feel as if they are being kidnapped now. The song also suggests a melancholy on Gitl's part. She has not married or had a man of her own in her life, as if that too were taken from her.

The songs Gitl sings are directly tied to Jewish culture and identity. They are a constant affirmation of identity, another theme that is prevalent throughout the novel. The prisoners in the camps struggle to retain their identities as the Nazis strive to strip them of them. Songs and other traditions are a means for a culture or people to remember their history. Just as the Seder dinner is designed to evoke the past, virtually all cultural traditions can be seen as markers of transition and as acts of remembrance.