The use of multiple layers of narrative in Jane Yolen’s- Briar Rose is highly effective in communicating the story and the story and themes concerning Gemma’s past experiences of the Holocaust and Becca’s quest for truth and fulfilment of her Grandmother’s legacy. Yolen uses a number of voices or accounts of events to give the reader a dramatic sense of the extent and the horror of Gemma’s experiences. The fairytale story, Becca’s quest and Joseph Potocki, all add richness of detail to the novel as a whole.
Techniques that incorporate this include symbolism, allegory, intertexuality, narrative structure and language. Gemma’s use of the Sleeping Beauty story as an allegory enables her to pass a record of shocking events, which add drama to suggest Gemma’s denial of the atrocities of the holocaust. The allegory also provides suspense for the reader as we follow the quest Becca embarks on in the literal story. The fairytale uses metaphors to hide the truth of what had happened during the holocaust.
The fairy with “big black boots and silver eagles” represents the NAZI SS Soldiers along with the “curse” being the war and the “mist” representing the gas chambers and exhaust fumes. She has used this story so it seems less horrific and that it doesn’t frighten those listening to it. Her voice is that of a traditional storyteller, using formal language in such phrases such as “once upon a time”. Disturbing phrases are added into the pleasant fairytale. As the fairytale of Briar Rose progresses, Becca’s journey also progresses as she unravels the truth behind Gemma’s past.
She learns about the events in Sleeping Beauty as it becomes more apparent to her. The two stories intertwine to give us a sense of suspense and climax as both develop a clearer picture for its readers. We can see that Yolen has used an allegory where a text is represented symbolically. Becca’s journey is only completed with the telling of more voices from various people such as Harvey, who she meets at Oswego. He gives first hand evidence about how Gemma carried herself like a princess with red hair and fair skin.
Yolen uses satire to contrast between the comfort in America, to the suffering of the darker parts of the fairytale world and the Holocaust. Character voices add layers of experience, reality and suffering; identifying in the truth of the holocaust. The fairytale technique was to give Briar Rose a touch of childhood innocence, such as the imagery of Gemma telling the story to Becca and her sisters. Yolen has used this technique to tell the reader that her story is not so innocent.
When ideas of the war are revealed, the audience contrasts the images Gemma had portrayed. Yolen has also juxtaposed the imagery of a happy household in modern times to the imagery of the Holocaust. When Becca travels to Poland, as her quest deepens she listens to Joseph Potocki’s tale which reveals the survival story of Gemma. Here he tells us how he has gone into the pits of hell to rescue her from the grave of dead bodies, where he breathes life into her. This imagery emphasises a part of Gemma’s fairytale where the prince kisses the sleeping awake.
Joseph uses spare and heroic language in “we rescue one, the kill one thousand. Still one is enough”. The repetition of these key motifs reinforces the message of the novel. The themes of human resilience and remembrance is incorporated through Joseph. Joseph’s story creates the image of pain and suffering. While “Briar Rose” deals with the historical reality of World War 2, Joseph’s story accentuates his heroic efforts and suffering of pain. In his tale, the members of the Jewish partisans tell stories to each other.
In doing so, the people can relive the story- Gemma has done this by repeatedly retelling the Sleeping Beauty story. This is so that their suffering and injustices aren’t forgotten. Joseph’s narrative voice exhibits images of truth and story within a story. He completes Becca’s chapter on her quest for her Grandmother’s past. The novel is divided in 4 sections. Home, castle, home again and the author’s note. They separate the steps that lead to Becca’s journey. The ending of the novel portrays the closing stages of Gemma’s fairytale and lso ends Becca’s story as well. It is titles “Home Again”. Becca has finally learnt the full truth of Gemma’s life. So in conclusion, Briar Rose by Jane Yolen has multiple layers of narrative to tell the story of Gemma’s life. By doing this, it creates a feeling of suspense and drama, as we put the pieces of the puzzle together to create a story. The construction of various narratives of Briar Rose conveys the message that traditions and storytelling convey the truth and a deeper understanding of the reality of the Holocaust.