Sarah’s Key

Sarah’s Key

Themes and Colors
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sarah’s Key, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The central event of Sarah’s Key is the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, which was a mass arrest of Parisian Jews conducted by the French police on July 16, 1942. The interwoven plots of the novel track the lives of Sarah Starzynski, a ten-tear-old arrested with her parents in that roundup, and Julia Jarmond, an American expat working as a journalist in Paris in 2002. Although many of the characters in the novel struggle with…

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De Rosnay’s novel is filled with different kinds of silence. In Julia’s story, silence is an indicator of the status of her relationships. Strained silence reveals the tension in Julia’s relationship to her husband and his family—but the comfortable silence Julia experiences with William is one of the first signs that these two characters might have a meaningful bond. Silence also has contrasting meanings in Sarah’s storyline, as silence can represent weakness and…

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Guilt is perhaps the most pervasive emotion in the novel. Almost immediately after leaving her brother behind, Sarah begins to worry that she is at fault, and ultimately she carries this feeling with her for the remainder of her life. The book suggests that her combined survivor’s guilt after losing her family in the camps and her guilt over leaving her brother in the cupboard directly contribute to her decision to end her own life…

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A fraught concept in any context, the question of identity becomes extremely complex in this novel due to the historical context of the Holocaust. In the eyes of the Nazis and their collaborators, Sarah is nothing more than a Jew, which condemns her to death. However, de Rosnay shows that such a simple label cannot encompass Sarah’s complexity as an individual, let alone encapsulate an enormous and diverse group. For one, Sarah is ethnically Jewish…

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Like many stories of the Holocaust, Sarah’s Key explores the nature of bravery. De Rosnay presents a complex definition of bravery, demonstrating that the bravest acts are often the quietest, rather than the grandest. De Rosnay refuses to romanticize bravery and instead complicates the concept by showing that bravery need not be defined by its ability to effect change. On the contrary, brave acts can be simply symbolic, ineffective, or even personally devastating or destructive.

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The novel presents familial love as a potential antidote to the various sufferings of its characters. Both Julia and Sarah feel strongly bonded to their siblings, yet de Rosnay stops short of depicting love of any kind as a means of redemption or cure for trauma. Instead, she repeatedly points to the limits of love as a healing force, arguing that there are wounds that no force, even one as powerful as love, can mend.

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