In Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, how is Shmuel on a hero's quest?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many heroic and epic adventures, real heroes must endure unspeakable suffering before emerging triumphant. Heroes also have noble traits and quests. For example, Odysseus, from Homer's The Odyssey, nobly faces pain, sadness, fatigue, and other mental and physical trials before finally arriving home as a hero. Shmuel, in Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, suffers just like any other hero must, and he has a noble cause as well. The only difference is that his trials exist within the walls of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. 

First, Shmuel is taken from his home, separated from his mother, and taken to the men's section of Auschwitz. The only good part about his situation is the fact that he is with his father in the camp. Meeting Bruno helps to ease a little suffering because of the company and food he receives from the friendship; but, each day Shmuel must endure prejudice, fear of dying, fatigue, and intense hunger.

Then, if things couldn't get any worse, Shmuel loses his father and finds out that Bruno is moving back to Berlin in Chapter 18. The final chapter in Shmuel's heroic quest is to find his father, and Bruno volunteers to help him. The boys become excited to go on a real quest as mentioned in the following passage:

"Bruno imagined a great adventure ahead and finally an opportunity to see what was really on the other side of the fence before he went back to Berlin -- not to mention getting in a little serious exploration as well -- and Shmuel saw a chance to get someone to help him in the search for his papa. All in all, it seemed like a very sensible plan and a good way to say goodbye" (199).

Unfortunately, the two boys are unmatched for the final adventure. Not only is Shmuel's father probably dead, but the boys unknowingly end up in a line that leads to the gas chambers. The final journey doesn't turn out as the boys had hoped, and they become victims of one of the worst atrocities in history. Overall, though, Shmuel is on a heroic quest because he has the attributes of a hero, and his quests to survive the camp and look for his father are noble. 

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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