How is indoctrination present in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is centered on the friendship that develops between Bruno and Shmuel. The boys build their friendship on their similarities not their differences although the undertones reveal to the reader that Bruno himself has been indoctrinated. As the narrator, Bruno's indoctrination is most effective and affects his perception, and therefore, the way he tells the story.

Bruno accepts the unreasonable situation at "Out-With" and although he knows that it cannot be right that so many people are forced to live separately and initially does try to question it, he blindly and obediently accepts his father's explanation that "those people...well they're not people at all" (chapter 5) even though his father's words do not make sense to him. Bruno must accept what his father says regardless of its merits and without passing judgment. It is expected that a child will not question his or her father and so laying down and enforcing such an objectionable standpoint is indoctrination. Bruno's understanding of the Nazi salute is also very revealing as Bruno thinks that "Heil Hitler" might mean "Goodbye for now. Have a pleasant afternoon" (chapter 5).   

Significantly, early in the boys' friendship, Bruno tells Shmuel "we're superior" (chapter 10), meaning that Germans are superior to other nationalities, not even stopping to think about how hurtful that comment could be. To him, it is simply fact. In chapter 12, he is unable to recognize the difference between the importance of the swastika on his father's uniform and the star which the Jews are forced to wear and which Shmuel reminds him is not worn out of choice. He defends his father when Shmuel suggests that soldiers are "bad." It is tragic and ironic and Bruno's disbelief at what Shmuel tells him about packed trains and door-less carriages further contributes to Bruno's distorted beliefs.

In chapter 7, Bruno will hear his mother lie about her involvement in patching his injured knee; he will observe Kotler's behavior when he calls Pavel unacceptable names and will feel "ashamed," and later he will deny that he knows Shmuel because he senses that it would not be wise to acknowledge their friendship. These all reveal the extent of his indoctrination as life continues as if the situation is normal and acceptable despite so many anomalies.   

Even Bruno's tutor. Herr Liszt will teach Bruno and Gretel about "The Fatherland," and "the great wrongs that have been done to you" (chapter 9). Herr Liszt uses propaganda, perhaps without even realizing the extent of his own indoctrination, giving a biased account, not necessarily based on fact but only on perception- apparently more like brainwashing than history. Herr Listz also tells Bruno "I think, Bruno, if you ever found a nice Jew, you would be the best explorer in the world," clearly suggesting that such a person does not exist.  

As well as Bruno's indoctrination, there are other examples, and despite being a fictional story of an unlikely friendship, they all reveal the tragic reality of the Nazi regime. 

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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