Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray


Ruta Sepetys

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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.
Strength and Identity Theme Icon

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 an effort to strip the deportees of their national identities. However, Lina and her fellow deportees from Lithuania resist Soviet assimilation by holding fast to their shared past, and their shared identity as Lithuanians. They share photos and stories of their families, keep holiday traditions alive, and remind one another about who they are and where they have come from. Lina derives strength from the memories of her life in Lithuania, shown throughout the text in italicized flashbacks from her previously comfortable life. Though the memories of warm baths and sumptuous meals are sometimes painful given the cold of the Siberian tundra and meager bread rations, they remind Lina that there is good in the world, and that she may one day return to such happiness. And through those memories and the collective effort of the Lithuanians to remain Lithuanians, the novel shows how maintaining an identity, as an individual and as part of a group, can give a person strength.

More broadly, the novel shows how the brutal conditions of the camps also threaten to strip away prisoners’ basic humanity by forcing them into constant zero-sum decisions, where they must act to save themselves by disregarding others or else put themselves at risk by helping others. It is an act of resistance, then, when Lina and the other deportees actively attempt to identify with one another and show kindness to those who are weak or ill. Lina’s mother, Elena, is one character who is exemplary in her compassion for others, as she regularly deprives herself of food and clothing to assist younger or weaker people, ultimately at the cost of her own life. And yet, the novel presents such actions not just as acts of resistance but as sources of strength. Strength in the novel is ultimately derived through the power of identity with fellow human beings, and so such acts of kindness and unity are personal affirmations of humanity – of a shared humanity beyond even shared nationality – which even the horrors of the labor camp cannot break.

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Strength and Identity Quotes in Between Shades of Gray

Below you will find the important quotes in Between Shades of Gray related to the theme of Strength and Identity.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Promise me that if anyone tries to help you, you will ignore them. We will resolve this ourselves. We must not pull family or friends into this confusion, do you understand? Even if someone calls out to you, you must not respond.”

Related Characters: Elena Vilkas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Jonas Vilkas
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“You’re very brave to have come. You must all stay together. I know you’ll take good care of your sister and mother while I am away.”
“I will, Papa, I promise,” said Jonas. “When will we see you?”
Papa paused. “I don’t know. Hopefully soon.”
I clutched the bundle of clothes. Tears began dropping down my cheeks.
“Don’t cry, Lina. Courage,” said Papa. “You can help me.”
“Do you understand?” My father looked at Andrius, hesitant. “You can help me find you,” he whispered. “I’ll know it’s you…just like you know Munch. But you must be very careful.”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas (speaker), Kostas Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Andrius Arvydas
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27 Quotes

“Hey, there was blond hair under all that dirt,” said Andrius, reaching out and grabbing a strand of my hair. I shrank back and looked away. Mother put her arm around me.

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

“Jonas,” said Mother, stroking my brother’s face. “I can’t trust them. Stalin has told the NKVD that Lithuanians are the enemy. The commander and the guards look at us as beneath them. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas
Related Symbols: Josef Stalin
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33 Quotes

We began to laugh. It was such a ridiculous sight, grabbing our knees in a circle. We actually laughed.... “Our sense of humor,” said Mother, her eyes pooled with laughing tears. “They can’t take that away from us, right?”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

“Because they threatened to kill me unless she slept with them. And if they get tired of her, they still might kill me. So how would you feel, Lina, if your mother felt she had to prostitute herself to save your life?

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas, Mrs. Arvydas
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

My art teacher had said that if you breathed deeply and imagined something, you could be there. You could see it, feel it. During our standoffs with the NKVD, I learned to do that. I clung to my rusted dreams during the times of silence. It was at gunpoint that I fell into every hope and allowed myself to wish from the deepest part of my heart. Komorov thought he was torturing us. But we were escaping into a stillness within ourselves. We found strength here.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Komorov (The Commander)
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 42 Quotes

Jonas was learning Russian much quicker than I was. He could understand a fair amount of conversation and could even use slang. I constantly asked him to translate. I hated the sound of the Russian language.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 51 Quotes

I grabbed our family photo and stuffed it up my dress. I would hide it on the way to the kolkhoz office. Kretszky didn’t notice. He stood motionless, holding his rifle, staring at all the photographs.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Nikolai Kretszky
Related Symbols: Family Photos
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 64 Quotes

“The Jews are the scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems,” said the bald man. “Hitler’s convinced racial purity is the answer. It’s too complicated for children to understand.”

Related Characters: Mr. Stalas (The Bald Man) (speaker), Jonas Vilkas, Janina
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 66 Quotes

Mother grabbed my arm. Pain shot up into my shoulder. She spoke through clenched teeth. “We don’t know. Do you hear me? We don’t know what he is. He’s a boy. He’s just a boy.” Mother let go of my arm. “And I’m not lying with him,” she spat at Jonas. “How dare you imply such a thing.”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas, Nikolai Kretszky
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 69 Quotes

“I can’t do this! I won’t die here. I will not let a fox eat us!” Suddenly the woman grabbed Janina by the throat. A thick gurgle came from Janina’s windpipe.
Mother threw herself on Janina’s mother and pried her fingers from her daughter’s neck. Janina caught her breath and began to sob.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Janina
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 85 Quotes

I closed my eyes. I felt Andrius moving close. “I’ll see you,” he said.
“Yes, I will see you,” I whispered. “I will.”
I reached into my pocket and squeezed the stone.

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas
Related Symbols: Andrius’ Stone
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker)
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis: