set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What does Bruno learn about discrimination from his interaction with Pavel?

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Bruno has been brought up to believe that the Germans are the master race and that Jews like Pavel are sub-human. Bruno's too young and naive to question any of this nonsense, so he just automatically assumes that what his alleged elders and betters have always told him is the truth.

However, when Pavel treats Bruno's injured knee after he falls off a swing, the young man starts to realize that appearances are not always what they seem. Bruno has grown up in an environment where doctors are prosperous, respected members of the community. Yet Pavel is little better than a serf, an emaciated shadow of a man, becoming frailer and thinner by the day. To Bruno's eyes, he doesn't look anything like a doctor. But once Pavel proves that he does indeed have the requisite training and skill, Bruno instinctively realizes that there's something not quite right about the poisonous worldview to which he's been subjected.

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Bruno learns a lesson of the need to avoid discrimination through his interaction with Pavel.  He thinks of Pavel only as a servant, someone whose menial function could not possibly embrace anything of medical science.  Bruno learns from Pavel that when one judges anyone from external appearances, surprise results.  When Bruno learns of Pavel's former life as a doctor, it enables him to fully understand that discrimination does not render the entire story about individuals.  Bruno realizes that there is more to individuals than what discrimination could reveal.  

There is a reflection that Bruno undergoes when Pavel tells him the truth about him being a doctor.  This becomes a "teachable moment" for Bruno.  He learns a great deal about both himself and Pavel when he realizes that people might be more than they are perceived to be.  It is here in which the theme of discrimination and seeking to overcome it is part of the exchange between Bruno and Pavel.  This exchange helps to illuminate the idea of the need for individuals to transcend discrimination in order to avoid historical realities such as the Holocaust.

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