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Text Analysis of A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

A Train in Winter is a non-fiction book written by Caroline Moorehead, and published in 2011. The purpose of this essay is to analyze an excerpt of the book that condenses one horrid year spent by French political prisoners in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. This analysis will identify the author’s unique style, the tone she uses, and the mood evoked in the reader. It will identify the setting and its integral role in the story. It will also address the chronological structure which helps the author build her idiosyncratic style. This text will ultimately seek to identify the theme of A Train in Winter, in order to grasp the underlying purpose of the text. In World War II, France was dealt a heavy blow by the German forces. It was defeated in 1940, and subsequently occupied by the Nazi army. France then became a puppet state known as Vichy France. It was divided into the northern Occupied Zone and the southern Liberated Zone. These distinctions soon vanished in 1942, and all of Vichy France was occupied by the German forces. The French were heavily oppressed by the Germans. They were constantly subjected to raids and arbitrary arrests. They were placed under curfews, and their flag and national anthem, La Marseillaise, were banned. Conditions were exacerbated by the Germans procuring edible produce, leaving the local population starving. These circumstances engendered a subversive resistance movement in France, known collectively as the French Resistance. The French women in the story were part of this resistance; they were arrested by the French Police and transported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in 1943. A Train in Winter was published nearly 65 years after the end of the WWII. A large proportion of the literate population is cognizant of the atrocities of WWII, the fascist Nazi party, and the Holocaust. However, Moorehead’s story provides a very unique perspective of WWII. The reader views the Prisoners’ lives through the collective eyes of the Frenchwomen arrested for being part of the French Resistance. The purpose of A Train in Winter is to inform a literate, relatively mature, audience of the brutality that these women faced in the Auschwitz concentration camp. By using an exceptionally unique, descriptive style, the author is able to both educate and shock her audience by providing sickening details. By listing the ways prisoners were dying, “from typhus, pneumonia, dysentery… dog bites and beatings and gangrenous frostbite… not being able to eat or sleep, or from being gassed” , the author informs readers of the multitudinous ways prisoners were killed, and thus keeps them glued to the story in order to learn of the fate of the Frenchwomen. A Train in Winter is written in the third person narrative, in which the narrator is omniscient. This helps the author convey a cornucopia of information to the readers. She is not restricted to any one character’s life, and is free to follow any of the prisoners. She is able to enter the minds
Dhruv Yadav- 20131220 Section D; BA LLB

Text Analysis of A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
of the characters, for example “Thirst… haunted Charlotte”, and proceed to explicate the actions that result from that state of mind, “she drank the muddy water of the marshes”. By using an omniscient narrator, the author bridges the gap between the reader and the characters in the story, allowing the readers to feel the pain of each prisoner. A Train in Winter is structured in a chronological manner. The introduction contains the exposition which describes the “crackdown on the French Resistance”. This creates conflict and leads to the imprisonment of the French women. The story then progresses towards the climax, while describing the various hurdles the women faced at the Birkenau camp. These hurdles include “appalling overcrowding, a chronic lack of water, and latrines that were… concrete sewers deep in mud and excrement.” The linear progression of the story is divided in order to allow the author to focus on the most important part of the prisoners’ lives in the prison. These divisions correspond to the seasons, “March brought rains,” or other important d evelopments like the Frenchwomen moving to “the experimental station at Raisko”. The climax of the story is attained when the women are unexpectedly brought back to Birkenau. The author creates a foreboding atmosphere, by using phrases like “extremely apprehensive” and “their hearts seemed to stop”. However, the denouement is gratifying as the Frenchwomen learn of their transfer to Ravensbrück- a camp north of Berlin. On their journey, they feel “nothing but pleasure” at seeing Berlin in ruins. The conclusion is a poignant one because the reader realizes that out of the 230 Frenchwomen that were captured, only 52 survived. The author, however, views this optimistically, stating that it was “extraordinary… that so many had survived.” The historical setting of A Train in Winter is an integral part of the story, because it is crucial for the reader to be aware of the location and time the story took place in. The elements of the setting are essential ingredients in understanding the underlying theme of A Train in Winter. It is imperative that the reader knows the location of the story, which is the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, along with the experimental station at Raisko. The reader must also know that the prisoners were brought to the camp in 1943, in the midst of World War II. The prisoners’ previous occupations as members of the French Resistance are equally important in understanding their imprisonment. The prisoners’ former lifestyles explain why some fare better than others under the harsh circumstances: for example Cecile, who is used to the “discipline of the Communist Party”, adjusts faster than Marie Alizon, who is constantly “tormented by cravings for food”. The setting is spiritual, because the physical setting embodies values that mold the characters in the story. In the winter the prisoners are surrounded by “deep snow that looked as grey as the immense sky”, and are punished by marching in the incessant, numbing weather. Spring time brings rains, and allows the prisoners to cleanse their bodies, which alleviates their situation to an extent. The brutal guards, coupled with the horrid conditions, transform the women physically and leave them “famished, bloated… their stomachs swollen as if pregnant”.
Dhruv Yadav- 20131220 Section D; BA LLB

Text Analysis of A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
The author places emphasis on sentence structure to develop a descriptive style. By using long drawn-out sentences and creating lists that seem incessant she adds volume to her material. For example, in the introduction she lists the materials confiscated by the French Police: “three million anti-German and anti-Vichy tracts, three tonnes of paper, two typewriters, eight roneo machines, 1000 stencils, 100 kilos of ink and 300,000 francs,” this long, continuou s list shows the great extent of the French Resistance. Elsewhere, the author uses long-drawn out sentences to describe the camps: “appalling overcrowding, a chronic lack of water, and latrines that were no more than open concrete sewers deep in mud and excrement”. The long sentences decelerate the pace of the text and allow the reader to commiserate with the prisoners’ pains. The author uses short sentences to state facts in a simple, unperplexing manner: the short sentence, “the women felt feverish,” shows the product of a long day of arduous work. The concise statement, “March brought rains” is used to introduce the springtime and the new challenges brought with it. The author uses subtle irony by using the euphemious term “processed” instead of ‘incinerated’ when referring to the new crematoria in the camp. She continues with the subtle irony, when describing the “new streamlined system” of cremating bodies: “prisoners loaded the ovens, having extracted the gold from teeth… shorn the hair… removed the ashes… and taken the crushed residue… to the River Vistula”. The listing of steps is reminiscent of instructions used in a simple household chore. The author uses a profusion of literary devices to develop her unique style. She refers to local jargon, like “Canada”, which refers to looted possessions, to bridge the gap between the audience and the setting of the story. Another jargon used is “organizing,” which is a euphemism for ‘pilfering’- this adds a humorous tinge to the serious tone. The use of unfamiliar, German words like “Vernichtungslager”, “sonderkommando” and “blockaltester” bring the reader closer to the setting, but also make him or her feel ignorant and alienated, because of his or her unfamiliarity with the words. The author uses an alliteration, “stiff and shocked… they shuffled into ragged lines… as ordered by the shouting soldiers”, to place emphasis on the words beginning with ‘s’. This draws the reader’s attention towards the visual and kinesthetic imagery the author is attempting to highlight. A Train in Winter has a dearth of similes, and metaphors. This is largely because the author wishes to present the nauseating details of the imprisonment in their purest form. She does not want to distract the reader with needless comparisons, as the acts committed against the prisoners are extremely vile in themselves. However, the author uses the simile, “branded like cattle,” to present visual imagery and show that the prisoners’ are treated like animals. She also uses the simile “they [the working women] looked like ants” to draw a comparison between the selfless, perpetually working ants that work in rows similar to the “toiling women”. The author presents aural imagery in the form of onomatopoeia, describing the dogs that were “snarling, growling, barking” at the women. These strident sounds accurately describe the ferocity of the dogs ready to pounce upon the women. Moorehead uses a plethora of adjectives to buttress her
Dhruv Yadav- 20131220 Section D; BA LLB

Text Analysis of A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
descriptive style. She uses kinesthetic imagery to describe a winter walk as “Agonizingly cold, faltering, slithering”, and paints a precise picture of the dreadful walks the prisoners had to take. She also uses olfactory imagery to describe the nauseating stench of the bowls as a “fetid, sickening smell”. The tone of the author is never static; it revolves around the changing conditions of the Frenchwomen. The tone also directly affects the mood that is evoked in the reader. When the Frenchwomen arrive at the camp, the author uses a callous tone to describe the women already in the prison: they wear “a grotesque assortment of ill-fitting clothes” and emit a “repugnant and unidentifiable” smell. This callousness is expressed as improvidence by Lulu Serre who says “How filthy they are. They could at least wash”. The various abominable activities of the Nazis, like the extermination of over 4416 people in a day, or working people to death, evoke a ghastly mood within the reader. These activities are so detestable, that merely stating them evokes a strong reaction in the audience. When the Frenchwomen are shifted to the laboratory in Raisko, the tone of the author becomes more optimistic; food and warmth bring a “new taste for life”; and the women start to “smile again” . By focusing on the Frenchwomen’s enrichment, the author is able to create a relatively brighter and livelier atmosphere. The Auschwitz concentration camp constantly attempted to dehumanize the prisoners- they were “branded, like cattle”, and were “easier to replace than shoes”. It is evident that for survival, The Frenchwomen had to fight a ceaseless battle to keep their individuality and halt their perpetual objectification. They would sing Le Marseillaise, France’s national anthem; they would “do gymnastics together”; and they even recreated the play “Le Malade imaginaire”. The women had to feel they had even a miniscule amount of power in order to keep their mental stability. They committed small acts of vandalism, like selecting “weaker roots for propagation” and “treating the plants with chemicals to stunt their growth”, to endow themselves with such power. Their battle, however, was not fought individually; it was fought collectively. They were able to survive, and preserve their individuality through their solidarity: from the very beginning they “clung together… constantly changing place so that no one spent too long on the outside” in order to stay warm. A Train in Winter not only informs readers of the atrocities that occurred in Auschwitz, but also shows that even Auschwitz, the quintessential mechanizing institution, could not deprive the united Frenchwomen of their individuality.

Dhruv Yadav- 20131220 Section D; BA LLB