Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Fear

By Diane Ackerman

Fear

Chapter 3

Jan knew Poland hadn't the planes, weapons, or war equipment to compete with Germany, and so they started talking seriously about sending Ryś somewhere safer, to a town of no military interest, if such a place existed. (3.24)

Jan and Antonina aren't afraid for their own safety; they are much more worried about the safety of their child and the animals in their care. Who will think of the children? And the peacocks?

Chapter 4

Just before dawn, Antonina woke to the distant sound of gravel pouring down a metal chute, which her brain soon deciphered as airplane engines. (4.1)

This is a scary way to wake up. Hey, if you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, set your cell phone alarm to "Blitz." That should do the trick.

The zoo animals seemed unaware of danger. Small fires didn't scare them—for years they'd trusted the sight of household bonfires—but they grew alarmed by the sudden flood of soldiers, because the only humans they'd ever seen in the early morning were the dozen or so blue-uniformed keepers, usually with food. (4.5)

Even though the first sentence says that the animals seemed unaware of danger, it's pretty apparent that they have very acute senses attuned to he perception of danger. In fact, animals are often much better at sensing threats than people are.

Chapter 12

A second fright gripped Antonina as she noticed the time. "But that is the trolley Ryś sometimes takes home from school!" (12.17)

Once again, we see fear for the safety of their child being a driving force for Jan and Antonina. After this scare, they temporarily change location to protect their young son. To them, this was the scariest trolley-related tragedy since Antonina heated up a bad box of Rice-a-Roni for dinner.

Chapter 16

According to Antonina, Lonia described the scene later in words filled with "terror and racing thoughts." (16.12)

With Jan's as our go-to point of view, it's easy to lose track of how scary escaping the Ghetto under the watchful eyes of Nazi soldiers can be. Jan is fearless. Those he is helping to escape, not so much—and for good reason.

Chapter 19

Rumor has long ears, and as an old Gypsy saying goes, Fear has big eyes. (19.5)

What do you think this saying means? Is it that when people are afraid, they are always wide-eyed and on the lookout? Perhaps they see things that aren't necessarily scary but are nevertheless perceived to be a threat? Or maybe Fear just wears really big glasses.

Chapter 23

It was one thing to expose himself to danger, he told Antonina, but the thought of spreading an epidemic offear throughout the zoo, the hub of so many lives, piled on more guilt than he could muster. (23.11)

Many of the Guests at the villa also have other people's interests foremost in mind. Maurycy has been through so much that he barely cares what happens to himself. But he sure doesn't want to make other people scared. He wants to make sure the other Guests—and the hamsters—have a save environment to live in.

Chapter 27

"We know how cautious wild animals can be, how easily they scare when their instinct tells them to defend themselves. When they sense a stranger crossing their territory, they get aggressive for their own protection. But, in [Antonina's] case, it's like that instinct is absent, leaving her unafraid of either two- or four-legged animals. Nor does she convey fear." (27.35)

This is Jan's perception of his wife, and it matches what we've seen so far. Aside from a fear for her son's safety, Antonina appears iron-willed, like a rhinoceros wearing chain mail.

Chapter 28

Even if to others Antonina often appeared calm, her writings reveal a woman often assailed by worry and broadsided by fear. (28.4)

As a follow up to the previous quote, we learn that Antonina is mostly hiding her fear. She doesn't show it, but she reveals it in her private journals. She isn't a rhino wearing armor; she's a fuzzy little teddy bear hiding beneath a cool shell.

Chapter 31

"Surely this is the end," [Antonina] thought. Hugging her baby tight, mind darting to think up a plan, she felt her heart caged in her ribs, and her legs became too heavy to move. (31.35)

Confronting a solider, Antonina outwardly expresses fear. It's a rare moment for her. What sets her apart from the animals in her zoo, and from many other people, is that Antonina doesn't run from her fear. She confronts it. And by doing so, she succeeds in conquering it.

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