Pilenz (pih-LEHNTS), at once the narrator of and a participant in the story. Pilenz often seems to be trying to justify his actions through his narrative. He was an altar boy in his youth, but as he ages he leaves behind his faith, although he continues to be involved with the Roman Catholic church. As a child, he was capable of great cruelty to Mahlke, although he sometimes seemed to admire him as well; Pilenz gave him the nickname “The Great Mahlke.” Pilenz went beyond mere childhood pranks to help bring about Mahlke’s ultimate undoing. He therefore is in an unusual position: Although he is aware of Mahlke’s role as “mouse,” he does not act altruistically to help him; rather, he chooses to join the “eternal cat” in persecuting Mahlke.
Joachim Mahlke (yoh-AH-khihm MAHL-keh), who grew up as an only child living with his mother and aunt. Mahlke is an awkward and frail boy who develops an enormous Adam’s apple as an adolescent. Portrayed as the eternal victim, Mahlke nevertheless seeks continually to align himself with those forces most likely to destroy him, including the German army, the National Socialist headmaster of his militaristic school, and his cruel and persecuting schoolmates. His Adam’s apple, the symbol of his victim status as “mouse,” is something of an obsession for...
(The entire section is 472 words.)