Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

Themes and Colors
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Between Shades of Gray, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Between Shades of Gray takes its title from the complex nuances of morality that Lina, the teenage protagonist and narrator, experiences and must grapple with during her years of imprisonment in the harsh Soviet labor camps of Siberia during World War II. In 1940, Josef Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, annexed Lithuania to make it part of the Soviet Union. Lina and her family are Lithuanians, and shortly after the annexation…

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In sending deportees such as Lina’s family to the labor camps, the Soviets desire to not only break them physically but also mentally and spiritually – to transform them from resisting Lithuanians (and people of other nationalities) into conforming Soviets. The excruciating work in brutal conditions are obvious means of weakening the deportees’ physical strength and spirit, and the deportation to the isolated camps so far from their homes is in itself part of…

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Art in the novel is powerful in a variety of ways. Lina is a talented artist, and much of the narrative of Between Shades of Grey is structured around her deep connection to drawing. Lina connects to the world using her art—she can best express herself using images, and understands her world better when she sees it out on the page. And, at the same time, art can speak the truth: as it does…

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During World War II, extreme atrocities were committed across the globe. Between Shades of Gray is the story of the genocide of the Baltic people of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, one that is significantly less well known than the genocide of the Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust. Eager to institute Communist rule and reduce dissent in Baltic countries annexed by the Soviet Union during the war, Josef Stalin charged dissidents with…

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Though Lina’s description of her life in Lithuania depicts traditional gender roles for men and women, such roles are often broken down in the camps. Lina’s mother Elena, for example, becomes a matriarch and protector for their group of deportees. Though a homemaker back in Lithuania, she was educated in Moscow as a young woman. This means that she is fluent in Russian as well as Lithuanian, and therefore one of the only…

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