set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Describe the young soldier Bruno encounters on the stairs in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas".

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The soldier Bruno, the young protagonist of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, observes on the stairs is initially described as a young man shorter than Bruno’s father, but who wears “the same type of uniform, only without as many decorations on it.” He has blond hair of “an almost unnatural shade of yellow,” and carries himself very rigidly. Noting the young soldier’s unease around the child, Bruno reflects that the individual looked as though he had never seen a child before. Bruno takes an instant dislike to this unfamiliar and exceedingly austere figure.

The young soldier will be introduced as Lieutenant Kotler. To the young boy, Lieutenant Kotler carries with him a certain feeling of malevolence. Bruno suggests early-on regarding Lieutenant Kotler that there “was an atmosphere around him that made Bruno feel very cold and want to put a jumper on.” The lieutenant was the very embodiment of the ideal Aryan soldier, a shining example of the master race. “On most days,” Bruno further observes, “the young lieutenant looked very smart, striding around in a uniform that appeared to have been ironed while he was wearing it. His black boots always sparkled with polish . . .”

Lieutenant Kotler seeks to ingratiate himself into the camp commander, Bruno’s father’s, good graces, and he initially succeeds. The lieutenant, it will be revealed, has a Jewish father who had fled Germany. This is all the pretext any good German of the time (notably Bruno’s father) would need to destroy another person’s life.

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The soldier that Bruno sees on the stairs is young and serious. He is so serious and severe that he unnerves Bruno. The young man looks very Aryan, and Bruno describes him as having "very blond hair, almost an unnatural shade of yellow" (Boyne, 18). The young man carries a box and brushes past Bruno without saying anything. Bruno says that he looked as though "he had never seen a child before and wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do with one: eat it, ignore it, or kick it down the stairs" (Boyne, 18). Bruno also notices that when the solider walks past Maria, she stands up very straight and looks down at the ground but does not make eye contact with the solider. Maria appears to be afraid that "she might be turned to stone if she looked directly at him" (Boyne, 18), and she does not relax until after the soldier leaves. Bruno is left with the impression afterwards that he does not like the man, and Maria warns him that he should stay away from the soldiers if he can.

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