The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a short essay on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

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The holocaust through the eyes of a child

The boy in the Stripped Pyjamas written by John Boyne in 2006 illustrates a unique view of the holocaust one that is sure to make even the most critical of reader fell at least a little emotion.

The plot of the book is relatively simple and it’s almost liner. Basically Bruno the sun of a German commandant goes, because of his father’s job, to Auschwitz where he finds himself terribly lonely, he is tough by Herr Liszt subjects that he does not care about (geography, history, mathematics nothing that has to do with the arts) because of his state of mind he goes exploring and find Shmuel , a Jewish boy from the concentration camp, the two soon start having regular meetings and towards the end of the novel he has the final adventure where he ends up dying gassed along with Shmuel. However there are few temporal shifts most notably in Chapter Eleven The Fury where the author relates the visit of Adolf Hitler to his father, or in ChapterEight Why Grandmother Stormed Out where we see grandmothers thoughts on her son’s new position.

What makes the book remarkable is not it’s subject matter but the way it is presented. The author uses the boy as a focalizer, we see the world trough his eyes, we hear only what he hears, we even have in a way a scan of the boy’s mind as the semantic field used is that of a child. Also all the characters are perceived by him because of that we never know the true names of the child’s relatives they are only mentioned as father, mother, grandmother and grandfather. The names of relatives are not important to Bruno as he might see them as belonging to another species alltogehter that of the adult, thus his mother or father are just that to him, he might often see them as being there to order him around as being able to do the things he cannot, he is not permitted to interrupt mother’s conversations but the other adults often do so, he or his sister are not allowed to go at their father’s study which is out of bonds at all times.

Due to the nature of the narrator we do see a blurred picture of reality, thus his sister is seen as a hopeless case because she will always find a way to irritate him however this is not necessarily her fault the two are part of different age groups, she is at her puberty and on the way to becoming an adolescent while he is just a boy, the two have different ways of perceiving reality, the boy is still naïve not realizing the true horror of his situation while she has an idea of where they stand. The boy doesn’t know what a Jew is while his sister know s that they belong to an inferior race, an opinion shared by her father, however neither one is at that stage in their life when they can form their own opinions.

Perhaps this tone is used to create a contrast to better illustrate the horrors of Auschwitz, we see certain details like the fact that for some unknown reasonShmuel seems to be sad all the time and he also seems to become thinner and thinner, the reason why we are not directly feed the details of his situation is because the author tries to create a link between the text and the reader, the reader is forced to draw conclusions, to fill in the gaps.

A clear example is that the writer never uses the real name of Auschwitz but uses the term Out-With a play of words that has a double meaning, first of all it creates the link I talked about earlier second of all it emphasizes the way in which the Germans saw the Jews. Then again the boy on the other side of the fence Shmuel seems to be as innocent as Bruno, showing the theory of human universals, a theory shown again in a dialog Bruno has with his sister about Jews in which Bruno doesn’t understand what Jews are, he asks her if they’re not Jews and she answers negatively, then she also talks to him about the conflict between the two however Bruno does not understand it, he was wondering why Jews and non-Jews couldn’t mix together even if they were opposites as his sister called them.

It is possible that the author tried to make a reference to today current racial disputes, as human society progress the tendency should be towards a complete racial erasure, in the sense that we should no longer distinguish human races anymore as it is becoming ever more useless in today’s globalized society.

There is also another reason for the book’s simplicity, it’s full title is The boy in the Striped Pajamas a fable. John Boyne intend for this novel to serve in a way as a lesson for people of all ages but not necessarily for children as they might not be able to fully understand it’s depts. However the author did not use animals for characters but human types. Bruno is a typical boy that is terrible naïve, his sister is your average soon to be adolescent that imagines she knows everything, Herr Litz is an old school teacher that sees art as being useless, Father is strict with his children as one would expect all the members tend to obey him as head of the household it was because of him that they arrived at Auschwitz, their mother is ahousewife however there is one character that is not what you would expect, Grandmother is a former singer she is a free thinker and does not approve of her son’s new position of commandant and sees the reality of the holocaust, her opinion will be that of the majority of the future Germans ,that the holocaust had no real justification, she even says in a dialog that Bruno “happened” to over hear that she is ashamed of her son.

All in all the book in itself is a good read, many magazines have given it positive reviews like the Observer, Irish Independent, Irish Times, Ireland on Sunday, Independent.

Submitted: July 15, 2009

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Add Your Comments:




Interesting observations. It did cover a lot
of ground as you clearly point out in your
piece. I was impressed with the story, and
your Editorial. I did not see the ending
coming though, and was rather shocked.
Thanks for posting. Smiles M.

Sat, July 18th, 2009 3:25am


Thank you for commenting, I'm happy it has helped you

Sat, July 18th, 2009 4:26am

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