set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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

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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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