Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray


Ruta Sepetys

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Women and Mothers Theme Analysis

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.
Women and Mothers Theme Icon

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 deportees who can communicate with the guards. Elena’s strength and willingness to stand up to the guards render her an important figure in the community of deportees. Though there are men on their journey and in the camps, all look to Elena for strength and comfort in their difficult times.

In the absence of able-bodied men, women in the labor camp generally become the providers of food and resources for the deportees. Mothers’ devotion to their children in the novel is portrayed as almost absolute, as Lina’s mother gives up her own food (and life) to protect those around her, and Andrius’ mother Mrs. Arvydas does anything and everything to try and protect him: first making sure that the NKVD believed he was mentally disabled (the only way they would allow him to survive because his father had been in the Lithuanian military), and then prostituting herself in exchange for his survival. These mothers are willing not only to protect their own children, but extend their maternal instinct to others as well.

The novel further portrays the power and influence of women and mothers to be universal, able to cut across even the chasm between Soviet camp guards and their prisoners. For example, Nikolai Kretszky, one of the NKVD guards who tortures the Vilkases most often, breaks down at the loss of his mother in front of Lina, who finds herself comforting the hand that beats her. The respect that children have for their mothers is a love that bonds people across enemy lines. The breakdown of traditional gender norms that view men as strong and women as weak is exemplified in Andrius’ admiration and love for Lina. It is Andrius who first tells Lina that she is “Krasivaya,” and challenges her to discover the meaning of the Russian word. Lina finally learns it from Kretszky, who uses it to describe Elena: “Beautiful, but strong.” The women in the labor camp may no longer be conventionally beautiful because of their lack of food and resources, but their fierce will to live and preserve the lives of others makes them both beautiful and strong.

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Women and Mothers Quotes in Between Shades of Gray

Below you will find the important quotes in Between Shades of Gray related to the theme of Women and Mothers.
Chapter 4 Quotes

The truck stopped in front of the hospital. Everyone seemed relieved that they would tend to the bald man’s injuries. But they did not. They were waiting. A woman who was also on the list was giving birth to a baby. As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, they would both be thrown into the truck.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Mr. Stalas (The Bald Man), Ona
Page Number: 15
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 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 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 57 Quotes

I hated that Mother shared with Ulyushka. She had tried to throw Jonas out into the snow when he was sick. She didn’t think twice about stealing from us. She never shared her food. She ate egg after egg, right in front of us. Yet Mother insisted on sharing with her.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Jonas Vilkas, Ulyushka
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 62 Quotes

“Look at me,” whispered Andrius, moving close. “I’ll see you,” he said. “Just think about that. Just think about me bringing you your drawings. Picture it, because I’ll be there.”

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 248
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 82 Quotes

“No, I saw it. She was pretty. Krasivaya.”
No. Not that word. I was supposed to learn it on my own. Not from Kretszky.
“It means beautiful, but with strength,” he slurred. “Unique.”

Related Characters: Nikolai Kretszky (speaker), Lina Vilkas, Elena Vilkas, Andrius Arvydas
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis: