set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne
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What are some of the character traits of the main characters in the novel The Boy In The Striped Pajamas?

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The two primary characters of the novel display incredibly contrasting traits that ultimately contribute to the novel's theme of friendship conquering societal differences. Bruno's most glaring trait is his almost unbelievable naïveté. On all accounts, he seems entirely unaware of the true nature of his environment, going as far to...

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The two primary characters of the novel display incredibly contrasting traits that ultimately contribute to the novel's theme of friendship conquering societal differences.

Bruno's most glaring trait is his almost unbelievable naïveté. On all accounts, he seems entirely unaware of the true nature of his environment, going as far to mispronounce Hitler's title, refer to Auschwitz as "out-with." Most prominently, he is completely oblivious to the fact that his friend is a prisoner in a concentration camp. His simple naïveté, however, allows for a kindness that would seem impossible in Shmuel's hostile world. Bruno's nature is ultimately reflective of the willful ignorance that was prominent in World War II.

Shmuel, on the other hand, functions slightly less prominently as a character than Bruno and is best embodied by his humility. He is a young boy who has no capacity to understand why he is being caged, starved, and constantly exposed to disease, yet he still allows himself to open up to a friend like Bruno. While anyone, particularly a child, in Shmuel's situation would likely lash out and remain frustrated, Shmuels humility and forgiving attitude allow for the unlikely friendship that drives the narrative to form.

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Bruno: Bruno is an adventurous young boy who wants to become an explorer when he gets older. Bruno is naive and doesn't understand much about his current situation or environment. He is curious and asks many questions. He is also polite and respectful towards his parents, the servants, and his new friend Shmuel.

Shmuel: Shmuel is a sad boy who lives on the other side of the fence in Auschwitz. He is sickly and always hungry due to the fact he suffers from malnutrition. He displays happiness when he talks to Bruno and has a forgiving attitude.

Gretel: Known as the "Hopeless Case" throughout the novel, she is very rude and displays contempt towards Bruno. She is also a flirt and is continually trying to gain the attention of Lieutenant Kotler.

Bruno's Mother: She is an understanding individual who displays respect for the servants, unlike her husband. She is less strict when it comes to child-rearing, and is unhappy with her situation. Bruno mentions that she drinks her "medicinal sherries" and is continually taking long naps. She becomes depressed at Auschwitz and is furious when she finds out that her husband's job is to give orders to kill Jews. She has a romance with Lieutenant Kotler and concludes that Auschwitz is no place to raise children.

Bruno's Father: He is a strict man who is proud of his position as Commandant. He is rather rude to his wife and the servants throughout the novel. Bruno's father is a loyal Nazi who is respected by his soldiers. Despite his family's feelings, he chooses to move them to Auschwitz to fulfil Hitler's wishes. He is not afraid of confrontation and is continually arguing with his wife throughout the novel.

Lieutenant Kolter: He is a young, arrogant Nazi soldier who treats Bruno with contempt throughout the novel. He is violent and is continually punishing the Jews who live in Auschwitz. Kotler is also a flirt and carries on an affair with Bruno's mother throughout the novel.

Pavel: He is kind, caring, and sympathetic towards Bruno. Bruno mentions that he always looks sad and angry. He suffers from malnutrition, like most of the Jews in Auschwitz, and is treated terribly by Bruno's family throughout the novel.

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