Study Guide

Number the Stars Warfare

By Lois Lowry


And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers. She stared at the rifles first. Then, finally, she looked into the face of the soldier who had ordered her to halt. (1.13)

Living during wartime means making sacrifices. It starts small, like this (not being able to run freely in your neighborhood). But as we know, this is only the beginning. Interrupting a friendly street race seems like nothing compared to what Ellen will have to do shortly after.

For Kirsti, the soldiers were simply part of the landscape, something that had always been there, on every corner, as unimportant as lampposts, throughout her remembered life. (1.40)

Streets have lampposts and roads have cars and towns have soldiers. Wait, what? That last one doesn't really ring true for most of us (lucky us!). Kirsti, on the other hand, doesn't know life without these soldiers. Taking them away would be almost as strange for her as putting them in would be for us.

"Papa," Annemarie had said, finally, into the silence, "sometimes I wonder why the king wasn't able to protect us. Why didn't he fight the Nazis so that they wouldn't come into Denmark with their guns?" (2.30)

Annemarie isn't the only one asking this question. Why do you think Denmark allowed the Nazis in? Was it a moral failure on their end, or is there more to the issue than that?

The train started again. The door at the end of their car opened and two German soldiers appeared. Annemarie tensed. Not here, on the train, too? They were everywhere. (6.39)

We know that Kirsti is really accustomed to the soldiers being around. Annemarie—not so much. She knows a time before there were soldiers, so their presence makes her really uneasy. Kirsti, on the other hand, doesn't understand what the big deal is, so she ends up chatting it up with the Nazis and charming the pants off of 'em.

"Don't tell me the soldiers try to—what's the word?—relocate butter, too?" She laughed at her own joke.

But it wasn't a joke at all, though Mama laughed ruefully. "They do," she said. "They relocate all the farmers' butter, right into the stomach of their army! I suppose that if they knew Henrik had kept this tiny bit, they would come with guns and march it away, down the path!" (8.11-12)

To someone who knows the terrible fate of many of the relocated people (we readers know that, sadly, many Jews died at the Nazis' hands), this type of joke might seem terribly cruel. But to Annemarie and her mom, it's just an expression of how much control the Nazis have over their lives.

She heard—as if in a recurring nightmare—the pounding on the door, and then the heavy, frighteningly familiar staccato of boots on the kitchen floor. The woman with the baby gasped and began, suddenly, to weep. (10.12)

Nightmare. That pretty much sums it up.

Then they were there, in front of her. Four armed soldiers. With them, straining at taut leashes, were two large dogs, their eyes glittering, their lips curled. (14.38)

Let's take a look at the nitty-gritty language here. As if the words "four armed soldiers" and "two large dogs" weren't frightening enough on their own, Lowry uses some major wordage to reinforce the scary: "straining," "taut," "glittering" and "curled." Gulp.

Annemarie gave him a withering look. "You know we have no meat," she said insolently. "Your army eats all of Denmark's meat." (15.27)

Withering? Insolently? Okay, time to break out your dictionaries. We'll give you a hint: insolent basically means rude. Whoa—rude? That's right. Despite how scary the soldiers are, Annemarie is brave enough to criticize the way they treat Denmark and its resources.

"Someday you will find her [Ellen] again. Someday the war will end," Uncle Henrik said. "All wars do." (16.54)

All wars end. Great. But Annemarie wants this war to end. It's like telling your friend whose boyfriend just broke up with her, "it will get better—it always does." Well hey, it's the thought that counts.

But even that was not to be for Peter. The Nazis refused to return the bodies of the young men they shot at Ryvangen. They simply buried them there where they were killed, and marked the graves only with numbers. (17.9)

War takes away so many basic human kindnesses and courtesies. As a Resistance fighter, Peter saved countless lives. But when the Nazis execute him, he just becomes a number.