What is the point of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that "the point" in Boyne's work is multifold.  On one hand, he seeks to provide a child's view towards the Holocaust.  The Holocaust is a time period of such intense cruelty and violation of human trust that to place focus on it from the frame of reference of a child is extremely powerful.  Boyne is able to bring this out through Bruno's characterization.  From his beliefs on right and wrong to his mispronunciation of "Auschwitz" and "The Fuhrer" ("Out- With" and "The Fury"), we see the Holocaust through his eyes and this allows us to fully understand the inhumanity of the Holocaust and its inversion of human values from a child's point of view.

Another "point" in the book is to bring out a level of humanity in the German people.  It is a difficult task to humanize a nation that has to bear the moral responsibility for one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated in human history.  In all honesty, how does one bring out the humanity in a people that voted Hitler into office and zealously supported him when he made no concealment of his overall purpose of extermination?  Boyne is able to bring out the element of the German population that either did not support Hitler and were silenced because of it or the part of the population that was ambivalent about what was happening and found themselves unable to say anything about it for different reasons.  For example, Bruno's grandmother speaks out against Bruno's father for his involvement in the Nazi party, insulting him and his "costume."  Bruno's sister comes to represent the part of the German population that supported the Nazis because of their social status and "popularity."  Yet, when faced with the atrocity of Bruno's death, she is inconsolable with sadness.  Bruno's father comes to reverse his position on what is happening when he experiences its cost firsthand when his child is a victim.  In this, Boyne does not excuse the Germans, but he brings about a transcendent level of humanity whereby true understanding and a sense of moral reconciliation can occur.  This is a difficult thing to do and Boyne accomplishes it well.

Finally, the notion of transcendence and permanence in a time period of brutal contingency is another "point" to the work.  Boyne points out that friendship and loyalty are universal qualities, ones that have to be embraced in the worst of times for this speaks to their essential qualities to human consciousness.  Bruno crosses the fence and wants to go back home.  Yet, Shmuel reminds him of his promise, and Bruno stands by his word.  In a time period where so few honored the bonds between themselves and others, Bruno and Shmuel are the exceptions in proving the importance of universal qualities regardless of circumstance.  Bruno's last words to Shmuel while in the gas chamber are that Shmuel is his “best friend for life.”  In the moment of unspeakable horror and terror, when the metallic clang is the last thing heard except for the screams of the naked bodies all around, Bruno speaks words of comfort to his friend.  This is where the ultimate "point" of the work lies.  In the moments where all the lights of humanity seem to be extinguished, individuals can be their own lights that illuminate the darkness.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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