Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Fear

By Diane Ackerman

Fear

War is scary. Do we really need to go into detail? Soldiers could bust up in your house at any minute and take control of it or shoot you. Bombs are falling from the sky. Friends and relatives are being killed. Entire towns could be wiped off the map.

Are you trembling yet?

During wartime, some people attempt to control other people through fear, the way some people try to intimidate their animals—or their children—at home. So it's fitting, and a little bit ironic, that in The Zookeeper's Wife, it's a pair of compassionate zookeepers who attempt to provide a place of calm in a sea of fear.

Questions About Fear

  1. How do the animals react when the zoo is invaded? Is their behavior similar to or different from the way the humans react?
  2. Why does Antonina hide her fear, only expressing it in her private journals?
  3. Jan is often portrayed as insanely courageous. Is he ever scared? If so, what is he afraid of?
  4. What is childhood like for Ryś, who is growing up in a world of fear?

Chew on This

Fear exists on a spectrum, and living during World War II is about trying to find the places with the least amount of that fear. The zoo itself fluctuates along this spectrum, sometimes being a safe haven that people can flee to, while at other times, it is a target, and people must flee from it to a safer space.

At the beginning of the war, Antonina and other people behave like the animals do: they are confused and scared by the initial attacks. But their fear lessens as the war continues; anxiety becomes the default emotion, and they become better able to live with their fears.

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