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Tzili by Aharon Appelfeld

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Part Two: part A, question 2        

The short novel, Tzili by Aharon Appelfeld is a story of the coming-of-age of Tzili Kraus, a Jewish girl deserted by her family and forced to survive by wandering among villages in the silhouette of the Holocaust.  At first glance, Tzili is the farthest thing from a heroic character.  She is merely thrust into terrible situations and forced to survive.  However, if one is to inspect what really defines a hero then it becomes clear that Tzili fits the conventional mold of a hero in the most unconventional ways.

        Joseph Campbell was the modern era preeminent expert on Greek mythology and literature.  He coined the term ‘monomyth’ or ‘the hero’s journey,’ which refers to the pattern of a heroic character found in most narratives.  This ‘Heroic Cycle’ is broken up into several parts.  The Heroic Cycle begins with the hero living in normality when some sort of event calls the hero forward into adventure.  Once the hero has passed from their ‘known’ world into the ‘unknown’ thus begins the beginning of their transformation.  From there, the hero is usually assisted by helpers or mentors all the while facing challenges and temptations.  Next, the hero experiences a revelation, which is presented in the form of a death and a rebirth.  From there, the hero finishes his transformation and makes a ‘return’ to his known world.  Thus is the classical heroic cycle.  Tzili’s survival follows this cycle in the most unconventional ways.

        Tzili’s call to adventure comes in the form of the Holocaust and her family’s abandonment of her.  Tzili is thus forced to survive by herself.  The beginning of her heroic transformation and thrust into the unknown begins with the onset of menstruation:  “When dawn broke she saw that her dress was stained with a number of bright spots of blood. She lifted up her dress. There were a couple of spots on the ground too. ‘I'm going to die.’ The words escaped her lips.... ‘I'm going to die,’ she said, and all at once she rose to her feet…. She began to whimper like an animal...’Mother, mother!’ she wailed.  Her voice grew weaker and weaker and she fell to the ground with her arms spread out, as she imagined her body would lie in death.” (22) The absence of her mother emphasizes the fact that Tzili, for the first time, is on her own, with no one to guide her through puberty and to help her survive.

        Tzili’s ‘wise mentor’ comes in the form of various women.  Katerina and Maria, both gentile prostitutes, have the greatest effect on Tzili.  Tzili creates the character of Maria from her memory, adopts her as a mother, and uses her as a role model for being a woman, a combination of assertiveness and beauty.  Tzili also adopts Katerina as another mother with whom she actually lives with for an extended period of time.  Katerina is the most developed role model that Tzili has in her life and more so than any other woman in Tzili’s journey shows her a women’s place in the world.  “Of the extent to which she had been changed by the months with Katerina, Tzili was unaware.  Her feet had thickened and she now walked surely over the hard ground.  And she had learned something else too: there were men and there were women and between them there was an eternal enmity.  Women could not survive save by cunning.” (46-47) Despite Katerina’s violence, exploitation and plotting against Tzili, Katerina, in Tzili’s heroic cycle deserves the role of the ‘wise mentor’ despite being an insufficient caretaker.



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