set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Student Question

In "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," does the tutor exploit Bruno and Gretel's innocence?

Expert Answers

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Herr Liszt, Bruno and Gretel’s tutor, is what Bruno’s father would call a good countryman.  All young people in Germany were indoctrinated in the beliefs of Nazi, Germany.   As the tutor, Herr Liszt had a captive audience.  He only had two students to teach, and he chose what they should learn.  The tutor was especially fond of geography and history, specifically German history.  Bruno was partial to reading and art.   Herr Liszt tells Bruno,

“Those things are useless to you….. A sound understanding of the social sciences is far more important in this day and age.” (pg 97)

When Bruno protests and tells the tutor that his grandmother always let them perform plays when they lived in Berlin, the tutor responds,

“Your grandmother was not your teacher, though, was she?..... And here I am your teacher, so you will study the things that I say are important and not just the things you like yourself.” (pg 97)

Herr Liszt explains to Bruno that books are important, but not fiction books, not storybooks.  He questioned Bruno on how much he knew about his family’s heritage and history. When Bruno said that he didn’t know very much, Herr Liszt told him,

“Then this is what I am here to change…..To get your head out of your storybooks and teach you more about where you come from.  About the great wrongs that have been done to you.” (pg 98)

At this point in time, the children know very little about their homeland, so they can easily be influenced by this tutor.  He is obviously going to concentrate on the wrongs that Germany has endured.  So, in that way, he is definitely taking advantage of the innocence of the children.  They know nothing or very little, so everything they will learn, he will teach them.

Later, Bruno complains to his father.  He had asked Herr Liszt is they could read one day a week.  Herr Liszt responded that that would not happen while he was in charge of their education.  Bruno’s father says that he is sure that the tutor has his reasons.  Bruno replies,

“All he wants us to do is study history and geography…. And I’m starting to hate history and geography.” (pg 143).

Bruno calls his studies boring.  His father responds with a lecture about how important the knowledge of history is to Bruno. 

“….it’s history that got us here today.  If it wasn’t for history, none of us would be sitting around this table now.  We’d be safely back at our table in our house in Berlin.  We are correcting history here. (pg 144)

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