Explore how Dunmore’s novel vividly conveys that, in a siege, fellow citizens are sometimes as dangerous as the enemy
This novel shows us the cruelty of war and the effect it has on lives of the Leningraders living under the siege during World War II. It shows the struggle of people trying to survive against all odds. In the novel, Dunmore conveys that fellow citizens are sometimes as dangerous as the enemy, and she does this by letting us see how people suffer as individuals with the main focus on the experience of the Levin Family. Dunmore clearly shows that it’s the desperation of the people and the will to do anything to survive that makes fellow citizens sometimes as dangerous as the enemy.
The siege affects the citizens of Leningrad in a very negative way; their old life leaves them completely. As the city gets deeper under siege, there’s no giving up, if people give up, they will die. Everybody is struggling to survive with small food rations and the cold that has gotten into them. Death becomes commonplace and everyone becomes extremely weak from the cold and starvation. People are desperate to survive; they would do anything in order to keep themselves alive. This means that in many cases, people’s morality is suspended. People steal food from one another and attack one another. It’s the desperation that the siege causes that makes people change both mentally and physically.
The scene where Anna goes to the bread queue is a significant scene because it shows how the siege is changing people’s reactions and feelings towards one another. In this scene, Anna is queuing up for bread as normal, but then a woman ahead of her doesn’t feel well so Anna tells her to sit down and rest. At this point, Dunmore describes the woman’s reaction and her thoughts about Anna:
“Suspicion lights in the woman’s blurred, starved eyes. It could be a trick, to steal her place in the queue. One hand lets go of Anna, to scrabble inside her coat and check if the ration card is still there.”
This small scene shows how the people start to change by the cold and starvation, it shows that people become more paranoid and suspicious of one another. In this case, Anna didn’t have any bad intentions, she just tells the woman to sit down because the line isn’t moving yet. However, the woman becomes extremely suspicious of her; she thinks that it’s some kind of a trick to get her place in the queue. The woman is also paranoid that maybe Anna would try to steal her ration card as well. There’s no sense of trusting one another here at all. The woman is extremely worried about the ration card because she knows how valuable it is, she knows that without it, her chance of survival will sink to zero.
On the way back from the bread queue, Dunmore describes how Anna has to keep both her ration cards and bread invisible, but also how Anna carries a wooden stick with her everywhere just in case she gets robbed:
“The stick in her hand is good. If someone tried to rob her, she would hit them with it.”
The fact that Anna has to keep both her ration cards and bread invisible shows us how each citizen has to be aware of other fellow citizens because people are so desperate that their morality is suspended and if they see fellow citizens carrying food around, they would actually rob or attack them for it. This scene also shows us that Anna is as desperate as everyone else because she can’t afford to get robbed, and would hit the people trying to steal her food with the wooden stick. If the siege never happened, Anna definitely wouldn’t have the mental strength to hit fellow citizens or to even think about doing it. These things all show us how the people of Leningrad are being affected greatly by the siege.
There’s a small scene where Andrei takes home a guinea pig from the hospital and gives it to Anna to cook. Everyone is extremely overjoyed because it’s been a long time since anyone has eaten something other than bread. While Anna is cooking it, the smell of meat fills the apartment and there’s a knock on the door. Anna says:
“I’ll go, and whoever it is, they mustn’t come in. If word gets out that we’ve got meat…”
There’s a sense of concern in her tone. It shows that Anna is extremely worried that someone will smell the meat and come to steal it. It shows how precious food is for everyone and how people are so desperate that if they smell it, they would actually come and steal it.
The scene where Anna sets off to get some wood for the Burzhuika for her family to stay alive is also an important scene. This is because as Anna makes her way home, she is attacked by a man who steals her wood. While Anna is putting in the wood that the man threw onto the snow back into the sack, the man says:
“Not trying to shove a bit of wood up your jumper are you? Cos if you did, I’d have your clothes off you as well.”
This shows us how the people of Leningrad are becoming more dangerous. He is clearly threatening Anna; he knows that Anna would freeze to death without the clothes. This scene really shows how the cruelty of war changes humanity for some people because it’s extremely cruel and heartless for someone to attack and threaten an extremely weak woman who spend the last couple of hours pulling out wood. It’s an act of inhumanity. Even though Anna is terrified by the man, she still tries to keep herself strong because she’s not only desperately trying to stay alive for herself but also for Kolya, Marina and Andrei as well. This is because all three of them rely on Anna to bring food home everyday.
Other than looking at how the siege changes humanity for some people, there’s a different side to the story as well. Even in these desperate times where people are suffering hard from the cold and starvation, there are still some nice people left. For example, Evgenia, a girl who you could say saves Anna’s life.
When Anna is attacked by the man, she’s extremely weak and is about to collapse, but luckily she’s saved by Evgenia who brings Anna back to her apartment where she very kindly gives Anna some tea, sugar and wood. It’s extremely kind of Evgenia because everyone knows how precious commodities are these days, but yet she’s still very willing to help Anna. Her sympathy and kindness helps to save Anna’s life. At the end of the novel, Dunmore also shows us the strength of the human spirit, and how it helped people living under the siege to get through the worse times. The ending of ‘The Siege’ is like the celebration of life.
I think Dunmore clearly conveys to us that in a siege, fellow citizens can sometimes be as dangerous as the enemy. She gives us a lot of details about how the siege changes the people of Leningrad, and gives many examples of small incidents that happen to show this. It’s not a surprising thing to see people being suspicious and extremely paranoid of one another because during these times, you’re living in fear of the people around you. You don’t know what they are thinking, they might be so desperate that all they think about is attacking you and stealing your food. I think that if you’re in this situation, it’s easy to lose your morality because it’s very difficult to control yourself when your mind is obsessed with just one thing, in this case food.