set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

Start Free Trial

How does Bruno's sister change at the start of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gretel undergoes quite a transformation from a normal young girl, innocently playing with her dolls, into a fanatical Nazi who eagerly follows every move of the Wehrmacht as it rampages its way across Europe. Her parents have tried to shield her from the outside world, but in the Third Reich, where children are indoctrinated with Nazi ideology from an early age, that proves to be virtually impossible. The sins of the parents, both Nazi fanatics themselves, have been visited on their daughter. It's almost inevitable that Gretel would turn out this way given her upbringing.

Her embrace of Nazism can also be seen as an expression of teenage growing pains. As far as Gretel's concerned, she's not a little kid anymore; as with any girl her age, she wants to be treated like an adult. It says something about Gretel's upbringing and environment that the only way this can happen is if she embraces her parents' warped, poisonous ideology.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The way that Bruno's sister, Gretel, embraces Nazism is one way she changes throughout the story.  

When we are first introduced to Gretel, she is excited about dolls and seems to embody the tendencies of a typical child.  In her role as the "hopeless case," the relationship she shares with Bruno fits the profile of the occasional antagonism between brother and sister.  

She changes with the family's move to Auschwitz.  She starts to fervently embrace Nazi ideology.  Hitler Youth posters fill the walls of her room as she deems her doll collection as infantile.  She views Nazism as a way to gain popularity and social acceptance.  She becomes more concerned with appearances, as seen in her idolizing Lieutenant Kotler.   Gretel's approach to the world changes because she sees Nazism as a path to social acceptance and popularity.

The changes that Gretel experiences are representative of how seductive Nazism was to the German public.  Her changes highlight how people can find social inclusion alluring.  Gretel's changes translates to an unwillingness to see the pain and suffering which were the results of Nazism.  

One more change in Gretel is seen when Bruno goes missing.  She is moved by the loss of her brother.  Despite her embrace of Nazism, she goes back with her mother to Berlin.  Perhaps, this change reminds the reader that no matter what, many could not fully avoid the cruelty and savagery intrinsic to Nazism. Gretel's departure from Auschwitz and the sadness she felt at Bruno's absence shows that, despite her changes, Nazism did not completely erode her sense of decency.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial