Briar Rose is centered around one woman’s Holocaust experience and intermixed with the classic fairy-tale, Sleeping Beauty. Yolen’s uses of classic fairy-tale elements such as a prince and the curse of a long sleep are used to connect us to the horrors of the death camp Chelmno. The result is a story that is fresh and shocking as it tears away any of the numbness one may feel for another account of a Holocaust survivor. Suddenly the fairy-tale ideas of rescue and evil are invested with modern connotations.
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Jane Yolen takes an interesting tactic with the story. The odd chapters consist specifically of Gemma, the grandmother, telling her version of Sleeping Beauty to her grandchildren, mostly Becca. The even chapters, however, tell of Becca’s search, after her grandmother’s death, to find out her grandmother’s real identity and origin.
It is evident that within the last half of Briar Rose that the alternating chapters merge. This gives rise to a realistation of a symbolic connection between the Holocaust story and Gemma’s story of Sleeping Beauty. For example; in Sleeping Beauty, the curse that is bestowed upon the princess, her family and friends mirrors the curse of doom that the Nazis and Gustapo unleashed.. The mist that covers that castle and puts everyone to sleep symbolizes the gassing deaths of millions of people. The castle surrounded with roses that were covered with barbs that were impenetrable symbolized the barbed wire that held the condemned inside the prison camps. By the end of the novel, there is so much symbolism to notice it almost overwhelming. It is as if the symbolism clicks together for the reader at the same time Becca pieces it together for herself.
From the commencement of the novel, the reader receives clues that that the story of Sleeping Beauty is combined with and has an underlying truth of the Holocaust Gemma have been through. "Everyone likes a fairy story because everyone wants things to come right in the end. And even though to tell a story is to tell some kind of untruth, one often suspects that what seems to be untruth is really a hidden truth." This epitomizing the traditional fairy tale moral constructs created to teach children right from wrong; the consequences of obedience and disobedience; and belief that evil can be reckoned with and overcome. Gemma’s tale of sleeping beauty is a basic symbolism of her ordeal with the Nazi’s, where she emerged as the survivor, symbolised by a princess in Sleeping Beauty. A direct relation between the Holocaust and Sleeping Beauty is demonstrated when Gemma says to Josef "And I shall never forget the dark prince who kissed me awake".
Briar Rose is a exceptionally emotional novel. The language used by Yolen is very graphic, openly depicting the horrifying events that took place in the concentration camps, symbolised by the castle in Sleeping Beauty. The vivid depictions Josef Potocki gave of his struggle makes the reader feel as if they suffered right along with him. When Potocki told Becca and Magda of how he and his companions found Gemma, it came as bitter sweet news due to the horrific events that her grandmother had been through.
Yolen demonstrates an intertwining feature between the fairy-tale; Sleeping Beauty and the Holocaust experience which was undergone by Gemma. He uses the story of Sleeping Beauty to symbolise what actually happened in the concentration camps. The result of which is a novel depicting the atrocities of the Holocaust from a number of diverse perspectives and emotions.
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