It is clear that Jan, although the novel does not divulge his past, is a child who has become so untrusting and bitter because of the hardships and sufferings he has been forced to endure. When Joseph meets him, it is clear that it is Jan who knows far more about how to survive and how this new world of war works than Joseph himself does, even though Joseph is the adult. The few tantalising glimpses Jan gives of his life indicates that he is an orphan who has grown up on the streets and has learnt the skills necessary for survival. Note what he says in the following quote:
"I borrow for everybody," said the boy. "They always send me. I'm so small I can wriggle under the barbed wire. I run so fast the soldiers cannever catch me..."
Jan's characteristics are therefore necessary defences that he has developed in order to survive in this world of war. The reader is forced to reflect on the sadness of such a world where a child can only survive by developing such hardness. However, during the course of the novel, Jan's relationship with Ruth forces him to become gradually less embittered and distrusting, giving him the hope of a more pleasant existence by the very end of the novel.