Describe at least one way that a character or individual changed in the text.
Explain how this change was important to the text as a whole.
In the novel Krystyna’s story by Halina Ogonowska-coates a character who changed in the text was Krystyna, the protagonist, as she underwent extreme suffering on her journey from Poland to New Zealand in WWII. The novel is written from the perspective of an 8 year old Polish girl in WWII. The story explains through Krystyna’s eyes the trials and tribulations she suffered in this period of time, and how the incidents around her deeply affected her as a person. Krystyna changed as she lost her identity, watched her family members die, and finally, began to feel safe again.
Through the brutality of war, any person suffering extreme physical and mental torture would lose their grip of reality, and be wiped clean of their identity. Krystyna, a victim of this, changed as she prematurely transitioned from a naive, carefree, happy child to a traumatised, victimised, war survivor. At the train station she began to notice how Poles were treated as animals. “Nobodies, Poles without faces, without names, without homes. Numbers on lines, lines on a page.” This quote helps us to understand how dehumanising the russians’ methods of order were; How easy they made it for Krystyna to slide onto the blank page with all the other Poles, and become nothing but a line; a speck of inconvenience. The further she got from her home, the more isolated, and out of place she felt. Krystyna had been fighting for survival for so long that when she was finally safe, she didn’t know who she was or what she liked. All those years of personal growth and development had been stolen from her. She felt lost.
During the months on the cattle wagon, the work camp in Siberia, and the train back from Siberia, Krystyna changed as she slowly lost every member of her family one after the other. These losses forced Krystyna to grow up and take responsibility for not only her own survival, but the survival of her family members. After Marysia died of childbirth, Krystyna was heartbroken. When Felix’s leg was smashed and his bones were sticking out, Krystyna was the only one there to help him. She attempted to nurse him back to health without knowing what she was doing, or receiving any help; “there was no one to help me”. Krystyna held her brother as he passed, again heartbroken, knowing her attempts to save him had not been enough. Krystyna had to push through all her heartbreak and trauma, to take care of herself as well as her mother and Auntie Danuta. The desire for food drove her to theft. “I grew quick and cunning, snatching whatever food I could find and taking it back to share”. Krystyna adapted from always being taken care of, to being the caretaker. She shared her stolen food with her mother and Auntie Danuta, because she understood that she was their only hope for survival. At such a young age, Krystyna learnt to rely on herself, and think of others’ needs as well as her own. At an extremely vulnerable time in her life, where she felt on the bridge of death “I will always remember being on that train, suspended between life and death”, Krystyna is selfless enough to share her food with her family, regardless of how hungry and weak she felt. She took on the responsibility of becoming a caregiver for her mother and Aunt, just as she had done for her brother, because she knew they didn’t have any other chance.
Towards the end of the story, Krystyna learns to be happy again in the first place she’d been safe in years in New Zealand. We observe Krystyna carrying her self-reliant qualities as she learns a foreign language by herself while being ridiculed by her peers. “I made a list of words in my head and memorised them, trying to work out what they meant”. Krystyna continued to be resilient and not give up when times got tough. She was adopted by a family, and learnt to be happy again and love others in a life she never thought she would enjoy again. As readers we feel proud and happy for Krystyna as she is finally able to continue growing as a person and experiencing the joys of life again without the constant burden of hunger or pity.
Overall, Krystyna changed and adapted to her new environments the best she could. After suffering deportation, a loss of her identity, loss of loved ones, physical torture and starvation, Krystyna was able to learn selflessness, self reliance and resilience. She had a pure soul that was so undeserving of all the suffering and heartache she endured. This story beautifully encaptures the story of any Polish girl in WWII. The immense loss and suffering are never forgivable. Krystyna represents anyone who suffered the same devastations, and tells their story for those that can’t tell it themselves. I think the author’s purpose was to show how the war changed Krystyna forever and how despite the torment, she was able to learn important life skills and become stronger, so that nothing could break her anymore. Krystyna had grown so accustomed to loss, and even anticipated the loss of her own life, so we as readers are happy to see that Krystyna grew old in New Zealand, started a family of her own, and lived the rest of her days in peace.