1. Discuss at least two themes presented in the novel
Milkweed is a 2003 young adult novel by American author Jerry Spinelli. The historical book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. The novel takes place during World War 2 and the Holocaust. At the time, German soldiers, known as Jackboots, invaded Warsaw and being who you were, meant the difference between life and death. Misha is the main character and before he met Uri, who was later to be a friend and mentor, he was called “Stopthief” (Spinelli, 2003, p.1) It was not his name but he assumed this because it was what people called when he ran away with loaves of bread and he had no memory of another label. Clearly, this small boy had no family nor friends and no place to call home. In the novel he is introduced to a group of orphan “misfits.” These boys are Jewish, and at the time, this was a dangerous identity to have. Through their comradeship and Uri’s guidance "Stopthief" starts to understand the world and who he is. “Milkweed” is an eye opening story that tells the reader about the struggles Jewish people and other minorities faced in World War Two and conveys a message about the power of identity, how it is developed and the importance it has in our survival and quality of life.√
As mentioned, Stopthief is an orphan boy who is introduced to the reader having no real name or identity whatsoever. The quest to define one's identity is a natural part of adolescence. For Stopthief, however, the task is even more daunting as he has no idea where he came from or who he is. His search for an identity was quiet challenging as during the Holocaust one's identity often determined whether one lived or died. With no family or friends, he survives by thievery. One day while doing just that, he meets Uri, another significant character. Uri bestows upon him his identity and a fabricated story of a family, name, and a childhood. He erased “Stoptheif” and created Misha Pilsudski. Spinelli shares this significant transformation with the words, "And so, thanks to Uri, in a cellar beneath a barbershop somewhere in Warsaw, Poland, in the autumn of the year nineteen thirty-nine, I was born, you might say" (Spinelli, 2003, p.46). Misha clings desperately to each detail; when he sees horses, he actually looks for Greta, his fictitious favorite created by Uri. This clearly shows Misha’s sense of attachment to his new identity, making him feel a sense of love and belonging. The final stage of Misha’s identity accrues when he is "reborn" as Jack Milgram by a disaffected immigration official upon his arrival in the United States after the war. However, it seems as though he does not have a true identity to call his very own until his granddaughter, Wendy Janina, affectionately refers to him as "Poppynoodle” (Spinelli, 2003, p.208). As the novel evolves identity becomes a prominent theme which many characters struggle with. The main character’s transformations are prompted by circumstances and...