set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What is Bruno's grandmother's view on his father's job in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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In "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," Bruno's grandmother is deeply disappointed and disgusted with her son's role as the commandant of Auschwitz. She views him as a puppet, manipulated by the Nazis, and expresses her shame in his involvement in the Nazi party and its atrocities. This contrasts sharply with Bruno's grandfather, who is proud of his son's high rank. The grandmother's moral authority challenges the state-sanctioned genocide her son is complicit in, marking her as one of the few characters who recognizes the regime's inherent wickedness.

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In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno's grandmother is not happy about her son, Bruno's father, and his new job as the commandant of Auschwitz. Once Bruno’s father gets this assignment, he wears his new commandant uniform to Christmas dinner with his parents. Bruno’s grandfather is "very proud of his son” when he sees the new uniform. However, Bruno notes that “Grandmother was the only one who seemed unimpressed.”

In fact, she is sad about Bruno’s father and looks at him “as if he were a huge disappointment to her.” She even tells him about her disappointment, saying,

"I wonder - is this where I went wrong with you, Ralf?' she said. “I wonder if all the performances I made you give as a boy led you to this. Dressing up like a puppet on a string ...

”Standing there in your uniform,” she continued, “as if it makes you something special. Not even caring what it means really. What it stands for.”

Bruno’s grandmother believes that her son's involvement in the Nazi party and its military have changed him in a negative way. This is in contrast to the views her husband holds. Bruno's grandfather is proud that his son has attained a high rank within the Nazi party. The grandfather feels that his son is helping Germany “reclaim her pride after all the great wrongs that were done to her.” He apparently does not see the Nazis the way the grandmother does; she recognizes that they are committing atrocities and believes it is wrong and immoral for her son to be one of them.

Specifically, she says that the Nazis are “doing ... terrible, terrible things.” She tells her son that it makes her ashamed to think of him as a member of a party that she feels is barbaric. Moreover, her son is not thinking for himself and being manipulated by the Nazis, she believes. This is why she characterizes him as "a puppet on a string" dancing to the Nazis' commands.

Before she leaves Bruno’s home after Christmas dinner, she turns to her son and yells one word—“Ashamed!”—to emphasize just how disappointed she is in him that he has become a high-ranking Nazi. She even tells him that it makes her sick to think about it and to realize what horrible things he and the other Nazis do.

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Bruno's grandmother strongly disapproves of the Nazi regime and the key role that her son plays within it. She openly confronts him about his new job as Commandant of Auschwitz, accusing him of not understanding precisely what the smart new uniform he so proudly wears actually stands for. She also wonders aloud if her son turned out this way because of how she raised him.

Bruno's grandmother shows the importance of moral authority and how it's ultimately more important than the authority of law or the state. The genocide in which Ralf is throughly complicit is perfectly legal by Nazi standards and has the full backing of the state. Yet it is also profoundly wicked and immoral. Sadly, only Bruno's grandmother admits this. Bruno is too young and naive to realize, and apart from his grandmother, all the adults in his life are too blinded by loyalty to the Nazi regime to understand or even care about the horrors of Auschwitz.

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In chapter 8, Bruno misses his loving grandparents and describes his grandmother as a heart-warming, enthusiastic, talented woman, who would always have the children perform skits during Christmas and birthday parties. Bruno then recalls what happened last Christmas before they moved to "Out-With," which is an unpleasant memory for him. Bruno mentions that last Christmas, his father wore his uniform to the family party and his grandmother was the only person who was not impressed by it.

During dinner, Grandmother criticized her son for behaving like a government puppet and said that he was only interested in looking handsome while he participated in terrible acts of violence. Grandmother also argued with her husband about their son's political stance and occupation. Before Bruno's grandmother left the party, she said that she was ashamed of her son and that seeing him in that uniform made her want to scratch her eyes out.

Overall, Bruno's grandmother is completely against her son accepting the position as Commandant in the Nazi regime. She feels that her son is simply acting as a puppet for the violent, immoral government and is disgusted at her son's decision to support the Nazis.

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Bruno's grandmother disapproves vehemently of her son's Nazi uniform and his appointment as Commandant at Auschwitz.

In Chapter 8, Bruno, who is unhappy living out in the country at "Out-With," recalls how he enjoys visiting his grandparents, especially his grandmother, who was once a professional performer. When the families get together, grandmother always has a skit for the children and her to perform, and she makes costumes, as well. Also, she never fails to sing for everyone with her lovely voice. But one memory is not so pleasant: When his father's parents came to their house for Christmas, Bruno's father had decided to wear his uniform. Seeing him in this uniform, Grandfather expressed pride, but Grandmother said she wondered if she went wrong having her son Ralf dress up as a boy. She tells him that in his uniform he looks like "a puppet on a string!" 

When Bruno's mother counters that her husband looks handsome in his uniform, Grandmother decries what she considers mere superficiality:

"That's all you soldiers are interested in anyway....Looking handsome in your fine uniforms. Dressing up and doing the terrible, terrible things you do. It makes me ashamed. But I blame myself, not you."

Even as she and Grandfather depart, Grandmother calls out, "The people you have to dinner...." then she adds that to see him in that uniform makes her want "to tear the eyes from my head."

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