Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Villages. Much of the horror encountered by the Jewish boy takes place in remote and underdeveloped Eastern European villages. Isolated for centuries, the villages appear almost medieval and lack all modern amenities. Primitive living conditions in these places, the novel suggests, have given rise to a population of genetically similar, hostile, superstitious, and brutal peasants. The peasants’ huts, farms, and workplaces are rough and meager, corresponding to the mean and vicious streaks of their owners. For example, on the barren floor planks of a mill, the jealous owner stamps on the eyes he has gouged out of the face of a man he suspects of having committed adultery with his wife. When lightning hits the barn of a carpenter, he blames the black hair of the boy for the strike and tries to kill him.

Germany’s occupation of the country lies like a plague on the land, which yields little even in good times. Demanding food and trying to hunt down the last Jewish refugees, the Germans treat the inhabitants harshly and add to the fugitive boy’s dread. He must periodically flee from one village to another. One village’s peasants eject him by throwing him in a river, on which he lands on the inflated swim bladder of a giant catfish, which carries him downriver.

All the villages the boy encounters come to resemble one another. His ordeal living among callous people ends only when the Soviet Army occupies the land, inflicting yet more violence on its sullen inhabitants.


Cesspit. Pool of human excrement into which the boy is thrown. While staying in a village in which a Roman...

(The entire section is 682 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Polish prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp Published by Gale Cengage

World War II
The world experienced a decade of aggression in the 1930s that culminated in World War II. This Second...

(The entire section is 784 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
The main character narrates The Painted Bird from his point of view, which enables readers to...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Kosinski makes extremely skillful use of the boy wanderer as a narrator of his wartime odyssey. His account consists of a series of detached...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1926: Joseph Stalin becomes dictator of the Soviet Union. His reign of terror lasts for close to three decades.


(The entire section is 115 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

One of the charges against the book is that it presents Polish peasants as barbarians. Research the culture of Polish villages during the war...

(The entire section is 89 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Besides its association with the fairy tale discussed in the previous section, The Painted Bird can be connected with the picaresque...

(The entire section is 322 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Notes of the Author on "The Painted Bird" is a short critical essay that Kosinski originally wrote as a letter commenting on...

(The entire section is 532 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Kosinski's Steps (1968), a sequel to The Painted Bird, won the National Book Award for fiction. This work...

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Corry, John, "The Most Considerate of Men," in American Spectator, Vol. 24, No. 7, July 1991, pp....

(The entire section is 232 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Everman, Welch D. Jerzy Kosinski: The Literature of Violation. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1991. “The author’s point is that the boy’s experience is not unique; what happened to him also happened to many others and could happen again to anyone.”

Kosinski, Jerzy. Notes of the Author on “The Painted Bird.” 3d ed. New York: Scientia-Factum, 1967. In this pamphlet, Kosinski explains the novel as “fairy tales experienced by the child, rather than told to him.”

Lavers, Norman. Jerzy Kosinski. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Lavers identifies the themes of freedom, revenge,...

(The entire section is 185 words.)