set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Discussion Topic

Contrasting Lieutenant Kotler and Bruno's father with Bruno in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."


Lieutenant Kotler and Bruno's father both embody strict adherence to Nazi ideology, displaying authority and cruelty. In contrast, Bruno is innocent and naive, unaware of the political and moral implications of the concentration camp near his home. This contrast highlights Bruno's innocence against the harsh realities represented by Kotler and his father.

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In "The Boy In The Striped Pajamas," who is the main villain: Lieutenant Kotler or Bruno's father?

Although Bruno's father is responsible for ordering unspeakable acts of violence, Lieutenant Kotler is the novel's main antagonist. Lieutenant Kotler is arrogant, immoral, and violent throughout the novel. Kotler treats Bruno like a baby and displays contempt towards him. Kotler is "two-faced" and disrespects the Commandant by having an affair with his wife. Kotler is also violent and shows a lack of empathy for Pavel and Shmuel. When Pavel accidently spills wine on Kotler, Kotler ruthlessly beats the weak old man. Kotler accuses Shmuel of stealing food from Bruno's fridge and also beats him badly. Shmuel comments on how Kotler is feared by the Jews inside the camp. His direct interactions with the prisoners depict his character to be personally involved in the annihilation of the Jews, whereas the Commandant's position is further removed. Also, Kotler has no redeeming qualities and proves to be a disloyal soldier.

Maria's story about Bruno's father sheds light on his kind, caring nature. Bruno's father is misguided and has no choice but to obey Hitler's orders. He treats his children with respect and even listens to his wife when she tells him Auschwitz is no place to raise children. The reader feels sympathy for Bruno's father at the end of the novel when he loses his son and his position. Despite giving the orders to systematically slaughter thousands of Jews, he has no choice but to obey Hitler's commands. Bruno also looks up to his father, unlike Lieutenant Kotler, who he despises.

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How do Lieutenant Kotler and Bruno's father contrast with Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Lieutenant Kotler treats Bruno differently than Father does, even though they both seem to be fairly strict. First of all, Father loves Bruno because they are family; however, Lieutenant Kotler, who works under Father as a soldier, seems to act like a neighborhood bully toward him. For example, when Bruno is upset about the move from a lovely home in Berlin to a humble home in Auschwitz, Father listens respectfully to his concerns. Then Father says the following:

"Just settle into your new home and be good, that's all I ask. Accept the situation in which you find yourself and everything will be so much easier" (53).

In chapter 7, Bruno interacts for the first time with Lieutenant Kotler and goes away unimpressed. Kotler does not seem to be very mature for his status as a Lieutenant because he teases Bruno and won't give him straight answers. Also, when Kotler tells Pavel to assist Bruno with finding a tire for a swing, he condescendingly speaks with slurs and a harsh tone. Later on, in chapter 15, Kotler's teasing makes Bruno infuriated as follows: 

"Bruno narrowed his eyes and wished he were taller, stronger and eight years older . . . It was one thing, he decided to be told what to do by Mother and Father--that was perfectly reasonable and to be expected--but it was another thing enirely to be told what to do by someone else. Even by someone with a fancy title like 'Lieutenant'" (165).

As shown above, Lieutenant Kotler acts immaturely and like a bully with Bruno and other people; whereas his father, on the other hand, treats his son with dignity and respect even though he may also be strict. As a result, Bruno appreciates his father, but he does not appreciate Lieutenant Kotler.  

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