Study Guide

Number the Stars Identity

By Lois Lowry


"Why are you running?" the harsh voice asked. His Danish was very poor. Three years, Annemarie thought with contempt. Three years they've been in our country, and still they can't speak our language. (1.14)

Do you consider the language you speak to be part of your identity? Annemarie sure does.

"They will remember your faces," Mrs. Rosen said, turning in the doorway to the hall. "It is important to be one of the crowd, always. Be one of many. Be sure that they never have reason to remember your face." (1.58)

In 21st-century America, we value originality and individuality. One look at Lady Gaga makes that crystal clear. But here Mrs. Rosen counsels against it; by blending in and losing themselves in the crowd, the girls have a much better chance of being safe. Makes you feel pretty lucky that you can wear your Converse to school, right?

"Who is that man who rides past here every morning on his horse?" the German soldier had asked.

Papa said he had smiled to himself, amused that the German soldier did not know. He listened while the boy answered.

"He is our king," the boy told the soldier. "He is the King of Denmark." (2.16-18)

This is almost laughable in today's world. (Well, we guess it was laughable then, too, since Papa did chuckle a bit.) In a world run by Google and TMZ, celebrities just don't go unrecognized. What do you think? Is this a sign of the times, or is the German soldier just plain ignorant? On the other hand, would you recognize the Prime Minister of Canada?

"I really don't think anyone will [come]. But it never hurts to be prepared. If anyone should come, even soldiers, you two will be sisters. You are together so much, it will be easy for you to pretend that you are sisters." (4.77)

Sure, it's easy for Ellen and Annemarie to pretend to be sisters. But that doesn't change the fact that Ellen's identity has become a threat to her life. There's no two ways about it: that just stinks.

"You have a blond child sleeping in the other room. And you have this blond daughter—" He gestured toward Annemarie with his head. "Where did you get the dark-haired one?" He twisted the lock of Ellen's hair. "From a different father? From the milkman?" […]

"Or maybe you got her someplace else?" the officer continued with a sneer. "From the Rosens?" (5.62, 5.64)

How important are physical appearances to identity? This soldier seems to think that a different hair color means a different family. Oh, and he happens to be right this time. But is it fair to judge someone's identity based on their looks?

Annemarie knew that Mama was lying again, and she could see that Mama understood that she knew. They looked at each other for a long time and said nothing. In that moment, with that look, they became equals. (9.34)

Coming-of-age much? Annemarie goes from kid to adult really stinkin' fast in this novel. Usually we consider innocence to be part of a young person's identity. Do you think Annemarie loses her innocence over the course of Number the Stars, or does she still have some kid left in her?

[B]efore, it had always been "Mrs. Johansen"; or, in the old days, during the merriment and excitement of his engagement to Lise, it had been, occasionally, "Mama." Now it was Inge. It was as if he had moved beyond his own youth and had taken his place in the world of adults. (11.27)

What if Shmoop were called You'd probably be less likely to read what we had to say, right? (We promise we have a point here.) Names are central to a person's (or a website's!) identity. Calling Mrs. Johansen Inge shows that Peter has officially become an adult.

All of those things, those sources of pride—the candlesticks, the books, the daydreams of theater—had been left behind in Copenhagen. They had nothing with them now; there was only the clothing of unknown people for warmth, the food from Henrik's farm for survival, and the dark path ahead, through the woods, to freedom. (11.40)

Even though the Rosens left all of their possessions behind, they haven't lost their identities. You know what they say: you can't take it with you.

"Do you remember that Peter's arm was bandaged, and in a sling, at Lise's funeral? He wore a coat over it so that no one would notice. And a hat, to hide his red hair. The Nazis were looking for him." (17.15)

Peter is a redhead in a city full of blondes, and that's no picnic when you're a wanted criminal. Even if we don't let our physical appearances define us, they might define us to the people around us. That's why Stacy and Clinton are so set on making us all look our best.

Her father took it from her and examined the broken clasp. "Yes," he said. "I can fix it. When the Rosens come home, you can give it back to Ellen."

"Until then," Annemarie told him, "I will wear it myself." (17.25-26)

You know that lucky penny you carry around, or the friendship bracelet that's so worn its almost falling off your wrist? Well, like these items, the Star of David necklace is an important part of Ellen's identity. It reminds her of her Jewish faith and her relationship with her father who gave her the necklace. In order to make it safely through the war, Ellen had to leave the necklace behind. But by wearing the necklace in Ellen's place, Annemarie is making a statement: it's okay for her friend to stop hiding and honor those parts of her identity.