This quote bears witness to the terrible physical toll the war took on Edek. From a spunky boy who escaped the camp he was stricken by tuberculosis and barely able to walk as their journey continued. It is also an indication that Edek was so driven to get back to his sisters that he appeared to be wild, when in fact he was a well-mannered boy driven by desperation.
As he reflected on the punishment he had given the boy, he realized that for all his noble intentions he had only been scratching on the surface of a problem he could not begin to solve. A week's detention would not prevent Jan from stealing again. Could Ruth prevent him? She was a remarkable girl and, if anybody could help him, it was she. But after five years of war and twisted living, such cases were too often beyond remedy.
After Jan is caught stealing, he is given a custodial sentence; however, as Captain Greenwood reflects on this, he is not sure the punishment will help Jan at all. Jan is not a bad boy, but his living circumstances mean that he has to steal to survive, and this has been the case for so long that it is hard to see how he can ever untangle right and wrong in his mind again. He also only steals from Germans, which, in his mind, is not wrong at all because it was the Germans who stole everything from him and left him living alone on the streets of Warsaw. Ruth does still have a very strong sense of right and wrong, and tries to instill this discipline on Jan as well. Despite his respect for her, however, it is almost impossible to reverse the effects of Jan's terrible experiences.
"He was sent to Warsaw to kill us," said Ruth. "I don't suppose he wanted to very much. If he were here now, he would treat us as friends, as you do, Frau Wolff. It all seems so stupid and senseless."
The Wolffs are a German couple who help the children because they are in need, regardless of their nationality. Their son had been sent to Poland (as Ruth observed) to kill Polish people, but this was not what was really in his heart. Ruth realizes that all of the deaths in the war have been so senseless and futile because it is governments, not people, who cannot get along; the soldiers who are ordered to kill and the people they are killing would most likely get along very well and have no reason to dislike each other at all. It is an important lesson to learn, and one that Edek and Ruth eventually embrace.
If I'd lost the sword, we should never have found you again.
For Jan, the sword had come to represent more than just hope: it had become the talisman that would protect and reunite them all, and without it they would not haven been able to find their happy ending. This was evident when he wanted to go back to the Wolff's house for the sword that he accidentally left there, almost as if it were an additional family member rather than an inanimate object. Jan feels the sword is a mission for him, and a reminder of his promise to Joseph to find his family.
It is doubtful if Ivan valued the dead lizard as highly as Jan did.
This sentence reveals Jan’s plucky, irascible, and intriguing nature. We don’t know much about his life before the Balickis, but clearly terrible things happened to him. He has no family and no home, and his little box of treasures is all that remains. The treasures, we will see at the end of the novel, are a motley collection of things that no doubt seem like detritus or useless objects. However, to a young boy who lost everything, these treasures provide a sense of power, ownership, and luck when nothing else can.
Now, in a moment, all control vanished. The sight of spilt food was too much for the orderly queue. They burst their ranks and sprang upon it, a rabble of wildly hungry children.
This is one of the most disturbing scenes in the novel because it demonstrates just how wretched conditions were for people during and after the war. The refugee children maintain only the barest shred of civilization and decency, but it only takes a moment for all of that to come crashing down. There is literally nothing more important than food, and the children, including the demure and mature Ruth, cannot hold themselves back. This scene is mirrored in Jan’s comment that things like the Ten Commandments do not work when people are starving.
Other voices joined in. “Give him a blanket.” “A tall story, but he’s earned a bed by the stove.” “Another story, somebody! One to make us forget.” “Put some romance in it.”
After Edek tells his story, a chorus of voices pipes up. These little comments are very telling. First, they reveal the kindness and support of people in a similar plight; they give Edek and the children a place closer to the fire. Second, they need stories. They need to tell and hear stories to forget the tragedies and toil of their day-to-day lives. Stories allow people to escape, to control their own narrative, to emphasize what matters, to reward goodness, and to punish badness. Even though they might be simple or unrealistic, they are powerful.
His keeper reports that he has been difficult to handle because of his melancholy and sometimes violent moods.
At first glance this sentence seems like it could refer to Jan. His “keeper” is Ruth, and Jan certainly is melancholy and volatile, if not violent. Of course, this sentence is actually talking about the escaped chimpanzee, Bistro; nevertheless, Bistro is very similar to Jan. Serraillier most likely does this to further emphasize Jan’s wildness and the toll the war took on him.
“Hans was killed in the desert at a place called Tobruk. Rudolf—he’s in the other photo—standing in the back, in uniform –Rudolf died later, fighting to keep the Russians out of Warsaw.”
Here, Frau Wolff tells the sad tale of how both of her sons were killed. Like the Balicki children, the reader realizes that the two young men are essentially their enemies; however, it is also apparent that Frau Wolff and her husband are kind and generous people. This scene reminds us that war affects everyone, and that people are not easily categorized as either good and evil. Like Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front, who kills an enemy soldier and, grieving over his corpse, realizes how akin they are, the Balicki children face the uncomfortable reality that Hans and Rudolph were not inherently evil, but instead were swept up into the game of war just as they were.
With a great effort of will he shed Ludwig from his mind and turned to his friends.
This is a tough passage to read for all animal-lovers. It is not pleasant to imagine poor Ludwig left alone during the freak storm, and his fate was no doubt not good. However, this is still a very positive development for Jan. Loving animals is not problematic, but Jan was turning to them rather than engaging with the rest of the world. He was remaining antisocial and was not learning how to be open, honest, and emotionally mature. By fully engaging with Ruth and the others, Jan is able to have a more meaningful life because he has a (human) family that loves and supports him.
The Silver Sword Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Silver Sword is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The officer concludes his letter with a postscript saying the landlady Frau Schmidt woke him up to tell him silver was missing, but he hardly cared since “these Germans! They spend five years looting Europe and then come crying to you in the...
an air of capability about her, and the adults who see her in action all believe her to be a very special and unusual kind of person. Although she is frightened, she does not show it, and manages to keep her little sister Bronia's spirits up by...