Summary: Chapter Twelve

The next day, Stingo and Sophie went to the beach. Once they arrived, Sophie drank heavily and expressed her anger toward Nathan. She became very angry and started using anti-Semitic slurs. Then, she told Stingo more about her past. In the apartment building where Sophie lived in Warsaw, she met a brother and sister named Wanda and Jozef. Sophie and Jozef became lovers. Jozef worked for the Polish resistance and assassinated Polish people who were betraying the hiding places of Jews to the Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis found out about Jozef and had him killed. Sophie abruptly interrupted her story by telling Stingo to take his clothes off. She went swimming nude, but Stingo was too astonished to know what to do. When Sophie returned, she began to kiss and fondle him. Stingo climaxed quickly and was ashamed, but Sophie soothed him and then returned to reminiscing about Jozef. She was angry that Jozef was pressured by his sister into playing such an extreme role in the resistance. Sophie became extremely sad and agitated, but Stingo comforted her and the two of them fall asleep on the blanket. When Stingo woke up, he could not find Sophie. He saw that she had swum far out from shore, so he went in and dragged her back to land. Sophie lamented that he did not let her drown herself.

They returned to Brooklyn, and Sophie shared more with Stingo. In March 1943, she travelled to the countryside to buy a ham for her mother, even though it was illegal for anyone other than Germans to buy meat during this time. On the train ride back to Warsaw, Nazi police searched everyone and caught Sophie. She was taken to a detention cell in Warsaw along with hundreds of others. She realized that the Nazis had launched large scale raids that day in hopes of catching individuals involved in the Polish Resistance effort, and her own petty crime had the misfortune to take place at the same time.

In prison, Sophie caught sight of Wanda. The building where they lived had been raided, and everyone was arrested, including Sophie’s children. While Sophie had previously told Stingo that she hated Wanda and blamed her for everything, she changed to speaking about the other woman with tenderness and admiration. Sophie and Wanda became friends due to their shared interest in music and languages. While Wanda was active in the resistance, Sophie refused to take part because she was too afraid. She tried to explain to Wanda that she could not risk anything happening to her or her children. Sophie, Wanda, and the children all waited in jail. They finally arrived at Auschwitz on April 1, 1943. Anyone who was Jewish was immediately sent to be slaughtered. The non-Jews were sorted. Sophie, Wanda, and Sophie’s son, Jan, were sent to the work camp. Sophie’s daughter, Eva, who was slightly less than eight years old, was in the group sent to the gas chamber.

Summary: Chapter Thirteen

When Sophie told Stingo about Eva, she was concise and composed. Stingo assumed that amidst the trauma of losing one child, she had transferred all of her energy to trying to keep Jan safe. Sophie explained that a few days before she moved into the Hoss household, Wanda had approached her and asked her to bring news about Nazi plans back to the camp. Wanda was also the one to suggest enrolling Jan in the Lebensborn program. Wanda encouraged Sophie to seduce Hoss as a way to gain the upper hand. All this information left Sophie overwhelmed, and she confessed to Stingo that she lived with guilt because she felt that she failed utterly in these tasks. One of Hoss’s daughters, Emi, had a small radio, and Sophie tried to think of a way to steal it. On the day that she got Hoss to agree to let her see Jan, she slipped into Emi’s room but was quickly interrupted by the girl. Sophie claimed that she was trying to clean, but Emi made it clear that she suspected Sophie was trying to steal the radio and was going to share this information with her father. Sophie tried to insist on her innocence but ended up fainting.

Surprisingly, Emi helped Sophie recover and seemed to lose interest in the accusation of theft. Sophie was able to leave quietly, accepting that she lacked the courage to steal the radio or engage in any other acts to help the resistance. The next day, she waited frantically for the promised meeting with her son. At this point, Sophie’s story trailed off even though Stingo asked what happened to Jan. Sophie mused about committing suicide. When she was in Sweden, after being liberated from the concentration camp, she had tried to kill herself by cutting her wrist in a church. However, she stopped when she started to think that killing herself in this way would be giving a victory to the Nazis who had wanted her dead.

Sophie explained what happened on the day she expected to see her son. She went into the office to find Hoss alone, and he told her that he had decided it was too dangerous to bring her son to her. Sophie became enraged and tried to attack Hoss, and he offered to do something else instead. She suggested he enroll Jan in the Lebensborn program, and Hoss agreed to consider this. Still not satisfied, Sophie demanded that he find a way to let her know when Jan left the camp and where he ended up. Hoss promised that he would get Jan out of the camp and let her know what happened. However, after Hoss left the camp, she never heard anything from him. In fact, Sophie eventually learned from Wanda that Jan was still in the camp. A few weeks later, Sophie got a message that Jan was “gone” from the children’s section of the camp. Sophie never knew whether he was freed from the camp and sent to Germany or if he died there. Her hopes of learning any information were crushed when Wanda was caught for her Resistance activity and killed in the camp. Sophie and Stingo returned to the boarding house, and to their shock, Nathan was waiting for them. He and Sophie immediately rushed into each other’s arms.

Analysis: Chapters Twelve and Thirteen

This section contains one of the few episodes where Sophie openly expresses anger toward Nathan, which shows a flicker of a spirit that is not entirely broken. However, Sophie’s anger emerges in the form of racial hatred and therefore represents more of a failure than a triumph. Stingo has been angry with Nathan himself, but he recoils when he hears Sophie ranting about Jews because he does not want to see her lapse into racism. Sophie’s willingness to say hateful things about Jewish people contradicts all of her stated desires to atone for her complicity during the Holocaust. Interestingly, Stingo claims that he can tell that Sophie is still in love with Nathan even while she lashes out against him. By saying racist and hateful things, Sophie fuels her own self-loathing and proves Nathan correct in the assumptions he has made about her. Without Nathan around to torment her, Sophie fixates on torturing herself by saying things she will later regret. In this strange way, she supports Nathan by proving his criticisms of her correct. Reluctantly, Stingo joins in with her anti-Semitic sentiments, but his discomfort with this behavior indicates that Stingo does not really want to discriminate against others.

Sophie’s refusal to participate in Resistance activities both before and during her time in the camp reveals an additional source of her guilt and shame. Wanda functions as a foil character to Sophie and represents what fearless and active resistance can look like. While Wanda doesn’t judge her friend for declining to participate, she never stops pushing for Sophie to do anything she can, and these requests torment Sophie as constant reminders of what impact she could have if she could only find the courage and the strength. Wanda and Jozef both eventually lose their lives as a direct result of their participation in resistance activities, and in Sophie’s mind, their fates contrast with her own survival. It initially seemed to Stingo that Sophie’s survivor’s guilt was more abstract, but now he learns that Sophie’s torment is much more specific and personal. Sophie’s rage and pain manifest in her inconsistency around how she talks about Wanda. Sophie’s initial disgust and anger towards Wanda are actually reflections of her own shame and self-loathing. Speaking about Wanda, Jozef, and eventually Eva for the first time pulls long-buried emotions to the surface of Sophie’s consciousness and trigger more emotions than she has previously displayed, which shows that she is finally accessing long-buried aspects of her psyche.

Sophie’s struggle to deal with buried aspects of her past manifests as sudden impulses toward both sex and death. In Freudian theory, individuals are motivated by both a sex drive, which compels one toward creativity, sex, and reproduction, and a death drive, which compels one to engage in self-destructive activities. Throughout the novel, Stingo, Nathan, and Sophie all reveal themselves to be simultaneously longing for sexuality and creativity but also propelled toward dark and macabre thoughts. When Sophie switches abruptly from pleasuring Stingo to attempting to drown herself, it becomes clear that she is oscillating between sexual desire and a desire for the oblivion of death. She is desperate to escape her pain in any way available. Sophie has previously stated that sex with Nathan helps her to escape from her memories, and now she looks to Stingo to provide the same relief. Sophie’s attempt to drown herself also shows the fragile line between birth and death because water often represents rebirth or renewal. In this section, the imagery of tears, semen, and salt water all blend together to signal the possibility of regeneration and renewal, contrasted with Sophie’s refusal to engage in anything healing or progressive. In fact, she uses these life-affirming things to harm herself.

Nathan’s absence liberates Sophie to share more about her past, and the information she shares with Stingo reflects a desperate need to finally disclose some of her burden of secrecy. Sophie has only been able to speak about her son a handful of times, but the trauma surrounding the loss of her daughter cuts so deep that she has been unable to talk about Eva at all. Sophie’s choice to discuss Eva with Stingo reveals how close the two of them have become and how much Sophie needs to share her story. However, it is not clear if Sophie actually finds any release from mentioning Eva. Although Sophie speaks her daughter’s name, she still cannot process the emotions around watching Eva be taken away to be killed.

Sophie’s preoccupation with stealing the radio from Hoss’s daughter shows that despite her claim of being a coward, she was actually strongly committed to trying to help the resistance efforts. Stealing the radio represented a huge risk, and as Sophie became more convinced that she had failed to help her son, the radio took on increasing symbolic force as a tangible victory that she might be able to achieve to demonstrate the value of her time in the Hoss household. Because of Sophie’s love of music, she easily imagines the hope and inspiration that it could bring to other prisoners. Sophie’s sensitive and artistic spirit is revealed in the fact that she imagines the radio being used to broadcast music rather than the news and information that would likely prove more useful to the resistance efforts. Sophie’s anguish over her failure is then exacerbated by other characters urging her to have hope and keep trying. After her attempt at taking the radio fails, Sophie wants to be able to accept this loss and move on. Her decision to close the door on the possibility reflects how she will later try to shut the door on her past altogether once she moves to New York.

The conclusion of Jan’s story makes it clear that Sophie’s Choice is a novel that will not shy away from the starkest and most brutal of plots. Sophie’s loss of Eva was traumatic, but the loss of Jan has an element of toxic uncertainty. Sophie’s choice to prefer to believe that Jan died in the concentration camp reveals that the human psyche might be able to achieve closure if certainty is provided but cannot survive the oscillation between hope and loss. Sophie can only sustain thinking about her children if she assumes they are both dead. At the same time, this knowledge tortures her because it implies that all of her efforts to seduce Hoss were futile and that she degraded herself only to have nothing to show for it.