Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Freedom and Confinement

By Diane Ackerman

Freedom and Confinement

Chapter 9

One awoke in darkness and silence, the bedroom windows sealed with plywood and most of the animal calls either missing or muffled. (9.1)

If we lived in a zoo, we'd wake up like this every day, because we'd want our beauty sleep. But for Antonina, this is very different. The war changes every aspect of her life, making her feel like a prisoner in her own home.

Chapter 11

The idea of safety had shrunk to particles—one snug moment, then the next. (11.12)

Freedom and safety, like McDonald's food and swimsuit season, are mutually exclusive during a war. If you want freedom, you have to risk your safety, and if you want safety, you must sacrifice your freedom.

Chapter 12

At first, while the Ghetto remained porous, the Żabińskis' Jewish friends believed it a temporary lepers' colony, or that Hitler's regime would quickly collapse and justice prevail, or that they could weather out the maelstrom, or that the "final solution" meant ejecting Jews from Germany and Poland—anything but annihilation. (12.10)

Many terrible events occur during World War II, each one worse than the last. Many people believe that the Jews' confinement to the Ghetto is the worst of it, because what could be worse than losing your home? But few have any idea what else lies in store.

Chapter 14

Some villa Guests hid while others hovered, emerging only after dark to roam the house at liberty. (14.15)

Even inside the villa, Guests aren't necessarily safe. It's a pit stop on their long road to freedom; they still must hide, because any gossip could expose them. There really isn't any safety in this war.

Hiding them posed problems, but who better than zookeepers to devise fitting camouflage? (14.1)

Some people might say that zookeepers are great at taking away the freedoms of animals and locking them in cages. Those people would be glad to see the zookeepers using their talents to save human lives for a change.

Chapter 17

Aided by friends on the Aryan side, tens of thousands of Jews managed to escape from the Ghetto before the war ended, but some famously stayed. (17.9)

A recurring motif in war stories, like this one, is how some people give up their own freedom to help others escape to freedom. Jan and Antonina are two of these people.

Chapter 18

Whenever Gross left home, there was always the chance of being recognized and denounced, but in an atmosphere of daily street executions and house searches, Antonina worried when she heard a rumor that Nazis had been combing through the apartment houses in Magdalena's neighborhood, at odd hours, raiding attics and basements to roust out hidden Jews. (18.30)

What we said earlier about freedom and safety being mutually exclusive applies here as well. Magdalena holds on to her freedom as long as she possibly can, but when it becomes too dangerous to live free, she goes into hiding. She would never fit in in the state of New Hampshire, whose motto is "Live Free or Die," not "Not Live Free or Hide."

Chapter 19

All the Guests and friends in hiding had secret animal names, and Magdalena's was "Starling," in part because of Antonina's fondness for the bird, but also because she pictured her "flying from nest to nest" to avoid capture, as one melina after another became burnt. (19.4)

"Free as a Bird," which is a Beatles song, doesn't quite ring true here. Antonina is as free as a bird that is fluttering from one cage to another. She's more like the Smashing Pumpkins song about a "rat in a cage." Again, there's relative freedom in this novel, but true freedom doesn't come until after the war is over.

Chapter 22

"Animals behave differently in the wild. We make captive ones lives on a schedule that's unnatural to them because it's easier for us to take care of them, and that disturbs their normal sleep rhythms." (22.17)

Being in captivity affects the humans just as much as it does animals. People and animals must both adapt themselves to a lifestyle very different from the one they're used to. Here, though, Jan is talking about a hamster. How in the world does a wild hamster behave? Do wild hamsters compete in their own version of the Olympics when no one is watching?

Chapter 26

Confined to her bed's well-padded prison, Antonina rose occasionally to hobble the few painful steps onto her balcony. […] Being bedridden had slowed the world down, given her time to page through memories, and brought a new perspective to some things. (26.3)

In some cases, confinement can be nice. It might give you time to reflect, for example. In this case, Antonina is reflecting about how crappy her life is during the war—but maybe her new perspective will make it less crappy.

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