In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, why has the author used capital letters in the phrase "Hopeless Case"?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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John Boyne’s “young adult” novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is told in the third-person but from the perspective of its young protagonist, nine-year-old Bruno. The world through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy is a little different than the view through adult eyes. It is a more innocent, less-developed perspective, one in which strict prohibitions and individuals with whom one may have a difference of opinion are emphasized in the mind. Early in Boyne’s novel, in the opening chapter, Bruno discovers that the family’s maid, Maria, is going through his possessions, prompting him to inquire with his mother the reason for this invasion of his privacy. His mother explains that the family is moving, so Maria is packing Bruno’s belongings. This exchange leads to Bruno’s description of the family’s current home, which includes his father’s office. An early indication as to his father’s temperament is provided with Bruno’s comment that the office is strictly off-limits to him and, presumably, to his sister. The office, Bruno notes, is “Out of Bounds at All Times and No Exceptions.” The use of capitalization by Boyne is intended to emphasize the institutionalized nature of the prohibition against playing in that particular room. Bruno interprets his father’s rule regarding the office in formal terms.

The use of capitalization to emphasize the young protagonist’s perspective is also applied to 12-year-old Gretel. Chapter Three is titled “The Hopeless Case,” and is dedicated to Bruno’s complaints about having to live with an older sister who is demeaning to her younger sibling and spends too much time in the bathroom at Bruno’s expense (or, more precisely, at the expense of Bruno’s bladder). That Gretel is a handful is further suggested by Bruno’s observation that his parents refer to her as “Trouble from Day One.” In Bruno’s mind, Gretel has been an autocratic presence in his life. As the narrator notes regarding the relationship of the two children, “. . .as far back as he [Bruno] could remember, that when it came to the ways of the world, particularly any events within that world that concerned the two of them, she was in charge.” Bruno, consequently, views Gretel as “The Hopeless Case,” capitalization, again, used to emphasize that this moniker emanates from the mind of a nine-year-old boy. “The Hopeless Case” is a substitute for “Gretel.” Bruno has substituted one name for another and, names needing to be capitalized, he has, in his mind, formalized this derogatory reference.

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droark | High School Teacher

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Bruno calls his sister Gretel the "Hopeless Case" and his parents call her "Trouble From Day One". In both of these situations the author capitalizes these descriptive phrases in order to make it clear that the characters mean them as alternative names for Gretel; that the phrases are synonymous with her given name.

These names refers to Gretel's disagreeable personality. She is clearly a bully, constantly tormenting Bruno. She earns this name by hogging the bathroom, accusing Bruno of abusing her doll collection, and encouraging her friends to also pick on her little brother. Both Bruno and their parents recognize this mean spirit in her personality and by his parents also calling her this name, the author points out that it is not just Bruno's imagination that she is being unfair to him.


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