An Examination Of How Naivety Is Created To Convey Innocence And Explore Complex Issues In The Boy And In Striped Pyjamas

1028 words - 5 pages

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is an entirely unique book. It follows its main character, Bruno, as he undergoes a big change in his personality and understanding of his environment. In the beginning when he moves to Out-With, he starts off an innocent 9 year old boy, completely oblivious to all the horrors going on just behind his back. Upon seeing the Jews and the huts on the other side of the fence, he concludes that it’s an ordinary town full of ordinary people. When he sees a soldier terrorising a group of Jews, he assumes it must be a rehearsal for some kind of play.For a large part of the book Bruno takes this unsuspecting view on almost everything he encounters; and through this approach, John Boyne is able to implicitly confront a lot of issues. He addresses how Jewish families were taken and separated, the soldiers’ appalling treatment of the Jews, Gretel’s indoctrination, Mother’s affair with Lieutenant Kotler, the labour and extermination of the Jews and more. And since these are hard things for any child to grasp, there could not be a better way to present them than the way this book does.And the way this book presents them is describing what Bruno sees, but either interpreting it differently or not interpreting it at all. However, subtle hints about the truth are added here and there, some of which could easily go unnoticed by the casual reader. For example, when Bruno asks his father who the people on the other side of the fence are, his father replies that, “they’re not people at all, Bruno”. This serves only to confuse Bruno as he has not been introduced to Nazism yet. In another part of the book, Grandmother has outburst of rage and shame at Bruno’s father becoming a Commandant, but Bruno doesn’t quite understand what the commotion is about. And when the threat appeared of the reality of the situation hitting home, Bruno and Gretel were quickly sent up to their rooms, as it was getting to close to the bone.Bruno’s journey really begins when meets Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the fence. As their friendship blooms and they start talking, he eventually starts to gain more of an insight into the horrors that go on there. Perhaps this starts even when Bruno first sees Shmuel; he’s thin, pale and gaunt, which says a lot about the conditions there. The pair eventually start talking about how Shmuel came to be at Out-With, and so Shmuel regales Bruno with the hideous things he’s recently been through. And amazingly, Bruno initially seems to think he’s had it just as tough as Shmuel. He unwittingly interprets Shmuel’s horrible experiences – such as hating Out-With and fearing Lieutenant Kotler – and connects them to his own experiences; he doesn’t like Out-With as it only has 3 floors as opposed to 5, and he finds Lieutenant Kotler cocky and annoying. It soon becomes clear that the boys have absolutely nothing in common, but Bruno’s failure to understand the situation means he makes the most ludicrous connections.In spite of their differences, both boys were born on exactly the same day: April 15th 1934. John Boyne probably did this deliberately to emphasize how different the boys actually are and how their surrounding environments have shaped them, because Shmuel is infinitely more mature than Bruno. But fleeting references throughout the book suggest that perhaps Bruno knows on a subconscious level that humans are being mistreated on the other side of the fence. When Shmuel says to Bruno, “You don’t know what it’s like here”, Bruno quickly asks Shmuel if he has any sisters, as if he didn’t hear Shmuel, as he doesn’t want to address that issue.On page 157, when relaying Shmuel’s experience to Gretel to enforce his fictitious “imaginary friend” story, Bruno realises that it really must have hurt Shmuel to go through the things Bruno was talking about. Shmuel had told Bruno how his friends disappeared without saying goodbye and how his Grandfather hadn’t been seen for days And this marks the point where Bruno begins to mature and comprehend what’s going on. But even so, when he agrees to cross under the fence to help Shmuel look for his missing dad, he is shocked and intimidated by what he sees. In his mind it was a regular village with normal people, but instead he finds sadness and suffering and death. Even at the end of the book, when it becomes painfully obvious what fate awaits Bruno and Shmuel, all he knows is that something isn’t right but he isn’t quite sure exactly what’s going on.But Bruno’s experience with Shmuel really does open his eyes and shows that the world isn’t all flowers and sunshine and happiness. And in some places it’s quite difficult for Bruno to grasp what is happening; but everyone eventually has to learn about the bad things in the world, because we have to face reality and no book guides children along the way more than The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. Would Bruno have ever got the full picture? Who knows. But perhaps it’s good that he’ll never have to understand the horrific truth about what happened in those dark times.Sources: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne


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