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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boyne has a very difficult task with the characterization of Bruno's father.  Essentially, he has to humanize a Nazi. That's not easy in a work that is decidedly anti- Nazi.  Boyne constructs a compelling portrait which strives to answer the fundamental question:  How could relatively decent people perpetrate the Holocaust?  History is fairly clear about those in the position of power in the Holocaust.  Men like Goebbels, Himmler, and Hitler were the focal points of embodying the inhumanity of the Holocaust.  Yet, there were many others- millions more- who were common people, regular Germans.  They executed the orders, threw the switches, locked the doors, and carried out what the leaders ordered them to do.  These people were butchers, store owners, and teachers.  They were human beings who participated in the inhumanity.

In some respects, Bruno's father can be seen in this light through his characterization.  He is legitimately excited and enthusiastic about his work in the Holocaust.  He sees his ascent in the leadership apparatus at Auschwitz as reflective of the good work he is doing.  He is a part of the Nazi machinery of death.  As a character in the work, he is shown to be willing do to whatever is asked of him.  He is a man who loves his work, and as with many traditionalist men, the conflict between family and professional duty becomes evident.  As his career trajectory increases, the strain on his family becomes greater.  He is never shown to display the intense hatred of the Jewish people that is associated with the Nazis.  Rather, he sees is as part of his job, a normalizing the abnormal, in which he views what he does as part of a larger occupational vision.  He is able to forbid his children, particularly Bruno, from wandering to "the other side" of the fence.  At the same time, he recognizes that while something awful is happening, his job is more important than all other moral, ethical, and personal considerations.  While he enjoys the trappings of power and upward mobility, he is characterized more as a myopic worker than someone with a true vendetta against the enemies of the Third Reich.

Boyne's characterization of Bruno's father reaches a rather tragic proportion at the end of the narrative.  The family leave and Bruno's father is left to search for his son.  He finds his clothes and realizes what has happened.  In the end, Bruno's father is left broken with grief and regret, the threshold of revelation proving too powerful to bear.  When he is taken away, there is a loss of humanity within him, almost a form of divine retribution for what he once believed with so much fervor as part of his job.  It is in this where I think that Bruno's father is characterized in a very unique and intricate manner in the work.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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