Sarah’s Key

Sarah’s Key

Sarah’s Key Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sarah and the other children in the camp pass a miserable night together. Sarah wonders if the policemen have children of their own and, if so, how they can treat children so brutally. Over the next several days, Sarah begins to feel “hard, and rude, and wild.” She does, however, feel a soft spot for the younger children in the camp and begins to “tell them the stories she used to tell her brother.”
Sarah’s sense of herself as hardened emphasizes the toll that trauma can take on individuals’ personalities. This chapter suggests that Sarah’s accelerated maturation is more negative than positive, and that it would have been better if Sarah never had to develop these qualities of toughness. This chapter is also significant in the way it subtly emphasizes Sarah’s growing guilt about Michel by showing how tender she is with the young children around camp, despite her tough new persona.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
An older girl named Rachel, who is Sarah’s age, begins listening to Sarah’s nighttime stories. One evening Rachel approaches Sarah and proposes they escape the camp. Sarah initially refuses but is touched when Rachel ends the conversation by squeezing her hand, “the way Armelle used to.”
Rachel is an important character because she is the person with whom Sarah becomes most closely bonded in the novel. Sarah’s friendship with Rachel will prove to be important to Sarah’s negotiation of her Jewish identity.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
The next day, the camp policemen shave the children’s heads. Sarah forces herself not to cry as she has her head shaved. When she looks up she realizes the man shaving her head is her former neighborhood policeman, the one she recognized through the bus window on the night of the roundup. This time the policeman is “too close […] to look away.” Sarah fiercely holds the policeman’s gaze “with all the contempt she [can] muster.” She then smiles “a bitter smile for a child of ten” and pushes his hands away.
This moment shows how Sarah’s stance on silence as a form of resistance has shifted since the beginning of the novel, when she interpreted her mother’s silence as weakness. Here, Sarah actively uses silence as a means to communicate her refusal to be broken by the camp and its officers. Sarah’s maturation is also reemphasized here in her bitter smile and her defiantly pushing the policeman’s hands away.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
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