set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What attitude, according to the book, is crucial for breaking barriers between the Nazis and Germans?

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas makes the case for individual thought as the most important attitude for breaking fences between the Nazi and German people.  Bruno is able to forge his friendship with Shmuel, develop a caring perspective for Pavel, and reject the blind dogmatism of Herr Liszt because he thinks openly and honestly about the world and his place in it.  This is different than other characters in the narrative.  For example, Gretel is not an entirely bad character.  Her weeping for Bruno at the end of the novel indicates that she does care for him.  Yet, she does not think openly and freely.  She capitulates to embracing the Nazi ideology not because she actually believes Jewish people are inferior, but because she wants to be accepted.  Nazism becomes her vehicle for social acceptance.  Bruno's mother is a strong figure, but she is unable to forgive herself for the transgression of silence, a condition that essentially causes the death of her only son.  Bruno's grandmother criticizes her son, Bruno's father, because he does not think and is more concerned about his "uniform."  The novel makes clear that the most important attitude that a person can possess is the ability to think openly and honestly about themselves and their place in the world.

Bruno embodies this from the very beginning of the narrative.  While much may change around him, Bruno remains true to a character that continually demonstrates independent thought. He asks questions, examines assertions, and refuses to capitulate to anything that is not reflective of an individual spirit.  It is this foundation that enables him to befriend Shmuel and look at him as a good friend, and not simply a social construction of what it means to be Jewish.  Bruno's willingness to stand up for his own beliefs is what allows him to cross over the fence and accompany Shmuel to look for his father.  Bruno's ability to think and be independent of action and mind is what enables him to clutch his friend's hand in the darkest of hours and assert that they are "best friends."  It is in this ability to remain independent of the world around him that the statement is made about how to break fences.  The attribute which allows individuals to see people as human beings and not as social construction becomes the most important attitude for breaking fences both between Nazis and Germans and any groups of people that are divided through conformist attitudes.

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