Beginning of the book: During the first chapters of the book only a few traits and quirks about him are revealed, use discover that he:
- Is a thief by trade
- Is a bit of a simpleton
- Is Quiet
- Doesn’t know much about the world.
When he meets Uri on the street and the other boys later on he learns a lot about himself and the world he lives in, Nazi-occupied Warsaw and the soldiers or Jackboots as they are called throughout the book.
Conflicts and challenges throughout the book with resolutions:
- The war poses a big problem for him and the boys. lowly the abundance of food and bread bags that flowed out of the shopping bags of rich women in fancy dress thinned not leaving much for them to steal, this happens slowly throughout the book to where a lot of shops(mostly Jewish) have nothing on their shelves
- Because of the presence of the jackboots and the bombings on he and Uri have to find somewhere else to live. they never have a permanent living space after the barbershop. and they are constantly having to move around, often sleeping amongst the rubble.
That is until he moves to the ghetto and even in the beginning he moves around with the boys but ends up staying with Janina and her family all the time, closer to the end of the book No Identity:
- At the very beginning Of the book, he does not know his name, his family or even if he is Jewish, through the help of the boys they discover that he is in fact a gypsy, or at least that is What his necklace seems to suggest also when he hears this word for the first time in the book it seems to bring back faint memories of wagons.
Shortly after the Nazi’s invade Poland Uri decides to give him a new identity seeing as they haven’t found out anything new about his past and doesn’t even have a name, In his new identity he is originally a Russian gypsy, with “seven brothers and five sisters” and a beloved “Speckled mare” Greta. His tale goes that he. eve name, Misha, was separated from his family due to the bombing of their camps and the horrible polish farmers and is now in Warsaw as an orphan.
- He finds this new life story to be great and can’t help but tell everyone that he has 7 brothers and 5 sisters, it seems that he truty does believe hat that was his life and he really did have a speckled mare named Greta. He only stops believing this story once he finds someone to call family.
Relationship with Janina:
- Whilst Misha is running from a jackboot he comes to a garden where he sits to rest, in the garden is a tomato plant with two red ripe tomatoes he plucks them from the tree and eats them, when he leaves he sees a girl watching him from the house.
- He returns the next day only to find no tomato, only arrows which lead him to a piece of candy. When leaving he ends up speaking to the little girl who was watching him, she invites him to her birthday party. This is the beginning of their long friendship.
- At her party he ends up stealing the cake and running away, he feels bad so he steals a new one and leaves it on her doorstep the next day.
- Every day he would try to steal two loaves of bread a day and would leave one on ]anina’s doorstep, soon things started to be left for him in return. One day when he goes to drop of some food, he doesn’t find lamina and her family but I jackboot and his.
- The next time they meet is on the way to the ghetto where Misha ends up living with her and her family.
During their time in the ghetto, they become very close, Misha going as far as calling her his sister, she also smuggles with him He often refers to her as being his shadow.
- The Naris decide that the Jews should no longer be able to live amongst those Ota higher class and so they build a ghetto and force them to live there.
- The ghetto is very cramped and surrounded by a large stone wall that keeps the Jews in.
- Soon it is apparent that the ghetto is not the great place Misha first thought t would be, with food being scarce and the living conditions appalling he finds a way to get food.
- There was a hole in the stone wall, small but big enough tor Misha, ever,\’ night he would sneak out, without his armband, and goes hunting for thing to steal, throughout his time in the ghetto he becomes very good at this and know just the right places.
- The ghetto is also a place of death. every day there are bodies under a newspaper, and Jews killed by the jackboots, some just because they can others for “crimes” such as smuggling.
- Nearer the end of the book, they are told that they will be going on the trains to resettlements in the east but Janina father does nor believes this is the case and asks that when Misha and Janina go out that night they don’t come back but Janina doesn’t want to leave her family and refuses to stay with Misha and returns to the ghetto, one night when they get back, people are being ushered on to the trains, they try to get away but she is thrown into the train and the door shut.
After the war:
- After the war Misha continues to steal to make a living and soon saves up enough money for a passage to America, • He learns English and tries to pursue a sales career. in the end, he gives up on selling the product and ends up ranting on the street about the ghetto and his life before America – a lot of people think he is crazy.
- The title of the book is Milkweed; Milkweed is a type of plant, it is as green in October as it is in July, it produces little pods that release white fluffs. It is also the symbol of the story.
- Milkweed is set in Warsaw, Poland during the Holocaust, the setting is really important because it is a historical fiction novel, and if it were set in another place some of the places wouldn’t line up. “We came to the jagged walls of a bombed-out building. We picked our way through the rubble. Glass glittered in the moonlight. Frost sparkled on tumbled bricks and fallen timbers.” (Spinelli 39)
- The main character of Milkweed is a small and short orphan boy named Misha, he steals food to survive and to feed others. He does not remember anything about his past life, who he was, or what his real name is. “I feed whoever I want to feed.” (Spinelli 126) Another character is Doctor Korczak, he is a kind-hearted man, he has an orphanage and he takes care of the orphans. “Misha, come join us. Sing with us.” (Spinelli 147) Another character is Uri, he is the boy that discovered Misha in the beginning. He is the leader of the boys, he is very street-smart. “Stupid. Stupid. They take everything, just to take it.” (Spinelli 13)
- For Misha his epiphany happened at the end of the story, it was when he finally realized that his whole life people have told him who he was, and labelled him, but now he has to be who he is. “I think of all the voices that have told me who I have been, the names I’ve had. Call me a thief. Call me stupid. Call me Gypsy. Call me a Jew. Call me one-eared Jack. I don’t care. Empty-handed victims once told me who I am, Then Uri told me. Then an armband. Then an immigration officer. And now this little girl in my lap.
- This conflict is definitely external because it is a group of people versus another group of people. The conflict is resolved after the war ended.
- “I think of all the voices that have told me who I have been, the names I’ve had.” (Spinelli 208) The theme of this story is ‘finding your identity‘. At the beginning of the story, Misha did not know who he was. He let others put a label on him, and whatever they told him instantly became the truth. When Uri told him his made-up story, Misha actually believed the story was who he was.
Along the way, as the story goes, Misha realizes that he cannot be told who he is, and he later realizes who he is. This can be applied to today because a lot of times we let others put us in some categories or label us a certain way, and we are okay with it. We shouldn’t let others define who we are, we are supposed to find our own identity.
Example 3 – The Evolving and Ever-Changing Nature of Identity
While the novel is undoubtedly about the Holocaust and the struggle of the Jewish people, it is also a novel about identity. In a time where one’s name, appearance, and identification can result in persecution and even death, Spinelli chooses to frame the novel around a nameless boy who chooses to become a Jew. Identity is fluid and abstract thing in the novel and is reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s theory on identity.
Foucault rejects the notion that identity is a permanent essence of a person’s being; instead, he believes that selfhood is composed of a multitude of constantly-shifting relationships with other people. This theory around identity fully supports the way that Spinelli structures the protagonist’s selfhood throughout the novel. Remembering nothing about his past, Misha initially calls himself “Stop thief,” an echo of the people he so frequently stole from (9). Stopthief’s initial name is thus born from his interactions with passersby and the victims of his quick fingers.
Later, Uri bequeaths a name unto Stopthief and his identity is once again altered: “And so, thanks to Uri, in a cellar beneath a barbershop somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, in autumn of the year nineteen thirty-nine, I was born, you might say” (29). Misha Pilsudski is “born,” and he happily absorbs the label of “gypsy” into his identity. Misha’s selfhood is thus an amalgamation of his experiences and of his relationships with others.
When Misha is accepted into the Milgrom family, he decides to keep his first name and becomes Misha Milgrom. In doing so, Misha also willingly becomes a Jew in a time where the distinction has the potential to mean life or death. Misha does so nonetheless because his connection to the people in his life, those who gave him a home when he had none, is more vital to him than the prejudices of the Jackboots.
When Misha Milgrom enters the United States, an immigration officer renames him, and he becomes Jack Milgrom. Misha’s identity hinges upon numerous people in his life but as his connection with each person is severed, he struggles to find himself.
At the conclusion of the novel, Misha is happy to be defined by his relationship with his daughter and granddaughter, now immovable and loving constants in his life. Spinelli writes, “I think of all the voices that have told me who I have been, the names I’ve had […] And now this little girl in my lap, this little girl whose call silences the tramping Jackboots. Her voice will be the last. I was. Now I am. I am…Poppynoodle.”.
Example 4 – The Physical, Emotional, and Moral Costs of Survival
The cost of survival for Misha and those around him is grimly high, and the characters in Milkweed risk make physical, emotional, and moral sacrifices in order to endure. While almost every character in Milkweed struggles with these sacrifices, some tolls are more apparent than others. The physical cost of survival is embodied in the character of Uri. Though many other characters die in their attempt to survive, Uri sacrifices his life not for his own survival but for the well-being of others in the ghetto.
On numerous occasions, Uri risks his own life to help others; the most notable of these is when Uri saves Misha’s life by shooting off the younger boy’s ear and convincing the other Jackboots that he is dead. Misha believes that Uri is vital in the revolt against the Jackboots, where Jackboot weapons are stolen and turned against the regime. The rebellion is eventually quashed, and its participants sent to concentration camps, but the impact that Uri had not only on Misha but also the boys and the people of the ghetto, is indisputable.
Instead of running away with Misha and the boys when he warns them about the trains, he chooses to stay and continue to ensure the survival of others. The emotional cost of survival is most evident in Misha’s many symptoms after the war. Misha slams the door in the faces of carolling children, unable to bear the sight of them without thinking of the orphans marching in rows to the boxcars.
Misha continues to steal fruit from stands, do odd things at parades, and laugh in the wrong situations; these instincts and “incorrect” responses are scars of a life lived in the middle of a war. Misha tears up a copy of Hansel and Gretel when he sees it in a store window. He undoubtedly sees Janina and himself in the characters. The pain of the truth, however, fills him with guilt because he “knew that the end was not true, that the witch did not die in the oven”.
Though Misha survives the Holocaust, he is filled with survivor’s guilt and is haunted by the people he has left behind. Misha cries for no reason and has nightmares about flames and Jackboots. The emotional cost of survival weighs heavily on Misha but at the conclusion of the novel, he finds reprieve in his daughter and granddaughter. The moral cost of survival is displayed numerous times throughout the novel.
People are forced to steal shoes and clothes from dead bodies. The strangers who share the Milgroms’ room steal the silver menorah in order to buy food. Perhaps of all the characters, however, the moral cost of survival is embodied most fully in the character of Uncle Shepsel. Sheps tries to manipulate Janina into giving him a cooked rat and then forcibly takes half of it.
He then converts to Lutheranism because he believes it will save him from being treated like a Jew and tries to convert others as well, telling them to “repent.” Uncle Shepsel’s character is made the clearest, however, when he asks Misha, “[e]very night you go […] Why do you come back?”. While Misha says that he does not know, it is apparent that he does so because he cares for the Milgrom’s, the orphans, and the rest of his boys in the ghetto. He returns because he is loyal to them and they are all he has. It is also abundantly clear that should Uncle Shepsel has the choice, he would leave everything and everyone behind to save himself.
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