A literary review of Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine and The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Written in a different context and content, Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine and The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch are two literary works that bring a different perspective in children’s literature and literary works in general. This paper gives a review of a fictional and non-fictional literary work. The review is keen to illustrate the impacts of these literary works on people particularly children.
Hana’s Suitcase is the first literary work of Karen Levine. The book is based on a true story of Hana Brady, who was a Jewish young girl living with her family in New town in Moravia. The author portrays her main character as proof of the past atrocity against humans and also as a hope for a better world in the future. The life of Hana ended in a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. Fumiko Isoka, is the founder of Tokyo’s Center for the Study of the Holocaust reconstructed the story of Hana’s family after receiving a suitcase from the collections of Nazi concentration camps. The suitcase was simple with ‘ Hanna Brady, 16:5 1931, an orphan’ encrypted on it.
Motivated by many questions running through the minds of many Japanese children at the Tokyo Center, Mrs. Funiko embarked on an assignment of searching for the owner of the suitcase. To research led her to a seventy years mystery of a young Jewish girl and who lived with her family in Czechoslovakia until the unfortunate Nazi invasion (Levine, 9). The story uniquely takes place on three continents in a span of seventy years. The book is reconstructed based on Hana’s brother (George) story of their family life while in Czechoslovakia in the Nazi regime. The author brings out a happy middle-class family. Hana, the only daughter of the family, is portrayed as a little girl with an abundant of dreams and a passionate desire to be a teacher. The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia changed the entire life of the family.
The once happy family was separated; the mother was sent to a concentration camp after an allegation of sending money to her brother abroad. The situation worsened; after all, the Jews were required to wear a badge with Jewish symbols whenever they were outside their compound. Nove Mesto was later declared a Jew-free town, and Hana’s father was deported. Hanna was forced to stay with her uncle. Together with her brother, they could not do anything; they could not go to school, they go not play just because they are Jews. In may 1942 the family was further disintegrated when Hana and George were sent to a different deportation camp, they were only allowed to see each other for 2 hours a week. They were later separated further in 1944 when George was transported to Auschwitz and Hana was later separated from her friends when she was too transported to Auschwitz.
Robert Munsch breaks people’s stereotypical reasoning of Prince doing heroic deeds to save a Princess in his literary work The Paper Bag Princess. The author portrays Elizabeth as an elegant princess who is beautiful, dresses beautifully and occupies a huge castle. Elizabeth had desires of marrying Prince Ronald. However, a dragon attacks the castle, destroys all things with its blazing breath and kidnaps the Prince. Elizabeth is left with nothing apart from paper bags that were her clothes.
After the incident she immediately embarks on a mission of rescuing her prince. Although she has no physical strength to fight the dragon, she uses her intelligence to win the fight. She fools the dragon twice. In the first assignment, Elizabeth persuades the dragon to burn up the forest with its blazing breath. Secondly, she persuades it to fly around the world in ten seconds. After accomplishing the assignments, the dragon is completely exhausted, and Elizabeth succeeds in rescuing her Prince. Prince Ronald is however not thankful, and instead he despises her for wearing paper bags. The Prince demands to see Elizabeth dressed like a Princess. Elizabeth responds to this by referring the prince as a bum who dresses like a Prince. The story ends with Elizabeth not marrying the prince after realizing it was not worth it.
Literary Elements in the Two Literary Works
The author of Hana’s suitcase has explored many themes, the major theme of the story is Holocaust and how it impacted on children. The story outlines how the Holocaust impacted on family relationships culture, identity, language and a sense of belonging. Lavine emphasizes on this on the second page of introduction when he states that “the war ended in 1945 and the whole world learned the dreadfulness of the things that happened in Nazi concentration camps.” Lavine goes ahead and states, “that people want to know more about Holocaust how it happened and whether it can happen again” ( Lavine, 2). In the story Lavine is able to explain how life was in the concentration camps; “there was teaching, learning, and performance. This all happened despite the war, cramped surroundings and dullness” (Lavine, 30). In page 70-71 Lavine gives details of how classes were organized in Theresienstadt. In this the author wants to portray how difficult it is to kill the human spirit and people’s culture.
The author of Hana’s suitcase brings about the theme of protection. George at the old age regrets of his lack of ability to save Hana from the hand of the ruthless Nazi. The author also illustrates the parents desire to protect their children from unpleasant thoughts; this is particularly illustrated when Hana’s parents would sit by the radio late night after sending Hana and George to bed. They will keep the volume down so as not to wake the children (Levine, 18). Lavine also was keen to illustrate human being as naïve beings. In page 19 Hana’s parents were surprised by Mr. Rott advice for them to leave Czechoslovakia, they believed that was their home, and humans are good enough not to sent them away. An incident like this is repeated in The Old Brown Suitcase by Boraks-Nemetz Lillian, in his opening few chapters where he portrayed Jews lacking desire to accept what is obviously clear. Boraks-Nemetz brings a picture of mankind as naturally naïve (Boraks-Nemetz, 14). Lavine also depicted that not all non-Jews were ruthless to Jews. When Hana’s parents were taken away from them, they were accommodated by their non-Jewish uncle.
The main theme in The Paper Bag Princess is gender role in modern world. Munsch portrays Elizabeth as brave, smart and who is true to herself. The author is keen to bring out that it is possible for a woman to be brave and expressive. The author also uses symbols to bring out the theme of the tale. The paper bag in the tale represents the true self. Without the princess attires Elizabeth becomes a normal person. Putting on paper bag attire and saving the Prince portrays the true self of Elizabeth. The author also makes use of the castle to represent the conservative perceptions and rules. The castle acts as a cage in which the Prince and Princess are confined in. When it is set ablaze, all the traditional and outdated perceptions are destroyed to pave a way for a new era of hope.
Another interesting thing in the Hana’s Suitcase is the structure of the book. The author successfully tells three concurrent stories; the story of Hana, George, and Fumiko all told in alternating chapters thereby creating tension and drama in the story. The story of Hana ends with her death, and the author is able to continue the book by taking up George’s story. Lavine also uses images to develop further the structure of the book. The author intention is to make the reader understand that this is a true story, therefore, providing pictures and documentation for both Fumiko’s and Hana’s story.
Munsch, on the other hand, uses a simple structure to develop his characters. The structure is made of four parts including a description of the account, rising action, a climax and a conclusion. The author description of the account occurs when the reader learns that Princess is beautiful, lives in a castle, has many beautiful clothes and her desire of marrying Prince. Rising to action occurs when the unfortunate event of the dragon destroying everything in the castle and kidnaps the Prince, Elizabeth pursues the dragon. The climax is when Elizabeth succeeds in rescuing the Prince and referring to him as bum after despising her for her dressing (Munsch, 23). In conclusion, they did not marry each other.
Lavine has also created a concept of faction in Hana’s Suitcase; this is a literary technique where authors blend in facts with fiction. Although Hana’s Suitcase is a non-fictional literary work, it has interwoven fiction where the author gives a description of Hana’s thoughts, emotions, and concerns.
Development of the Main Characters in the Two Literary Works
The main characters in the two literary works share some characteristics. They both have some elements of frustrations. In Hana’s suitcase, Hana discovers she can no longer play with her friends or go to school (Levine, 25-30). This is contrary to their earlier life where she had freedom of movement and family happy moments. However the author brings out the spirit of hope through Hana’s memories of these times and the act of burying her frustrations (Levine, 60). Her frustration persists when she was separated from her parents and ends up being a lonely figure in the world. Although together with her brother they found a short-lived console when they were accommodated by their non-Jew uncle they were later transported to a concentration camp where Hana is murdered after two years (Levine, 114)
Just like Hana, Princess Elizabeth undergoes various frustration and conflict to the point of making a decision to part ways with Prince Ronald. Like Hana’s endurance and hope of life in the midst of despair, Elizabeth has a passionate desired to reunite with her fiancée. Elizabeth had a great desire to marry the Prince until when the dragon came and destroyed everything she had and took away her fiancée (Munschi, 9). In a similar scenario at the moment when Hana was the lively little girl full of dreams Nazi’s came and shattered her dream by taking away her mother, father, brother and uncle. In both scenarios the separation is permanent.
The difference in this view, however, arises in that while; the dragon took everything from Elizabeth, she takes action to pursue the dragon. Hana, on the other hand, did not take any step to follow her parents.
In conclusion, Both Hana and Elizabeth resulted to a lonely life after being separated from their loved ones. The main difference in the two literary works is that while the characters and proceeding in Munsch tale are fictitious, those in Lavine story are non-fictitious. In addition, Hana’s story ends tragically after her murder while Elizabeth story, the reader is only informed that she resolved in living a lonely life.
Boraks-Nemetz, Lillian. The Old Brown Suitcase. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press. 2008. Print
Kokkola, Lydia. Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature. London: Routledge. 2009. Print
Levine, Karen. Hana’s Suitcase. Toronto: Second Story Press. 2002. Print
Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Buffalo: Annick Press, 2010. Print
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