The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Questions and Answers
by John Boyne

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What are examples of the conflicts (character vs. character, character vs. society, character vs. self) in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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An example of character vs. character in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is Bruno vs. Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno represents innocence and kindness whereas Kotler is a mean bully who abuses his power as a soldier by being rude or threatening. Bruno doesn't like Kotler specifically because of a few of the following reasons:

"There was the fact that he never smiled and always looked as if he was trying to find somebody to cut out of his will . . . Once when Bruno was watching the camp from his bedroom window he saw a dog approach the fence and start barking loudly, and when Lieutenant Kotler heard it he marched right over to the dog and shot it" (162).

Bruno wishes that he were older, taller, and stronger so he could confront Lieutenant Kotler. Unfortunately, Bruno is only ten and can only be sarcastic or verbally resistant when Kotler is around. 

Next, an example of character vs. society is exemplified in the story surrounding Pavel, the waiter. Bruno learns that Pavel once practiced medicine. Bruno doesn't understand the reason Pavel is now his family's waiter. However, it can be inferred from historical facts that since Pavel is a Jew, Nazis forced him to stop practicing medicine. Since society's acceptance of Jews changed when Hitler came to power, Pavel must now wrestle against prejudiced people every day. The worst part about Pavel' life is that he is a victim of society because he can't live the life he once had. It doesn't matter that he is an educated or experienced doctor. All that matters to society now is that he is a Jew and should be treated as less than human.

Finally, a conflict that demonstrates character vs. self is when Lieutenant Kotler asks Bruno if Shmuel is his friend. The battle fought between a character against himself happens inside, and it becomes evident in the character's mind. For example, the internal question that Bruno must answer is whether or not he will tell the truth about his friendship with Shmuel and risk getting in trouble. Bruno debates over what to do as follows:

"Bruno's mouth dropped open as he tried to remember the way you used your mouth if you wanted to say the word 'yes'. . . but then he realized that he couldn't; because he was feeling just as terrified himself . . . Bruno wished he could run away. He hated Lieutenant Kotler, but he was advancing on him now and all Bruno could think of was the afternoon when he had seen him shooting a dog . . ." (172).

The above passage shows Bruno struggling within himself to do the right thing, but he's terrified. Sadly, he doesn't claim Shmuel as his friend at this moment and must apologize later. 

 

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