The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: Holocaust Theme

The use of language in texts influences psychological reactions in readers. A particular theme that impacts the reader is the World War II Holocaust when Germans killed the Jewish race. The holocaust is confronting as it shows the horrors of war which conflicts with the values of the reader. From this point on many individuals acted and desired equality throughout the world. One particular novel that has a deep impact on the reader is John Boyne’s novel, The Kid in the Striped Pyjamas.

In order to convey this feeling Boyne utilizes different language strategies to shock and encourage the reader to make social changes in regards to race and gender equality. The main methods Boyne usages are characterisation, literary gadgets, dramatic paradox. The Holocaust happened in World War II when Nazi Germany killed people in a planned and required way. Six million Jewish people were eliminated for no factor aside from Germans wanted individuals to blame for the miseries that was taking place throughout this time.

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Millions of other individuals were killed that the Nazis thought about as a bad influence on society, these were gypsies, homosexuals and communists. Numerous were rounded up, put in ghettos, forced to operate in concentration camps and then eliminated in big, overcrowded gas chambers. Some individuals state this did not occur at all, or they say that it is explained mistakenly. However the evidence was right there, Jew’s were treated inhumanely and were slaughtered because of a man who thought he knew finest for his country, this is the event that Boyne bases his novel around.

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This event in history motivates people to have a favorable response and to want equality throughout the world. Another event that took place in 1994 was the Rwanda massacre where hundreds and countless Tutsis were killed, this also had a large effect on society wanting to act and make a change for equality. In books, characters are used to make readers respond to their characters in various ways. In ‘The Young boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ gender roles are extremely predominant and reflect how females were treated in the 1940’s.

Mother is seen in a positive light as she encourages her husband in his new job, where she travels from Berlin to the country side closer to her husband’s work. Father treats her with no respect, when she finds out that her husband is terminating Jews she is immediately upset and wants her and her children to move as this isn’t a nice environment for them to grow up in. ‘Just horrible, I can’t stand it anymore’ Mother said, ‘We don’t have any choice’ (Page 187). This is a quote showing that mother has no say and father is ignoring her wishes to leave this house and is marginalising her.

Readers feel sorry for mother and compassionate that she is trying to do her very best for all of her family members, this may also inspire men to treat women with more respect and equal to themselves. Gretel is Bruno’s sister in the novel. Not only is she a female and has no power, but is also a child. Gretel tries to fit in by following the war movements and by becoming prejudice against the Jewish race and believing that Germans are far more superior. ‘Gretel stayed in her room concentrating on the various maps she had pasted on the walls and consulting the newspapers’ (Page 188).

This is a passage taken showing that Gretel is trying her hardest to keep up with the latest war movements to try to fit in with the soldiers. Through this battle for power and attention readers feel sorry for her as she is trying to gain power but won’t, simply because she is a female child. This may inspire readers to listen and give more power to children as they should have their say as well. Another main role that is identified throughout the novel is race. Boyne bases his novel around World War II when Germans discriminated Jews and therefore treated them with no respect and killed them.

We can see this when Father makes a statement if Jewish people are actually human at all. ‘Those people… well, they’re not people at all, Bruno’ (Page 53). This statement made by Father is marginalising the Jewish race and segregate them from any other human being. Another example of racism throughout the novel is when Boyne juxtaposes Pavel and Kotler. Pavel come across as kind hearted when he comforts Bruno after he falls off of his swing whereas Kotler is seen as mean and brutal. ‘What happened next was both unexpected and extremely unpleasant’ (Page148).

This is a passage taken from the novel telling us that Kotler had killed Pavel brutally after he had accidently spilled wine on Kotler’s pants, even though they didn’t specifically say this, the reader is able to assume that this even occurred. When Kotler beats Pavel to death readers are upset and shocked that someone could be that cruel because someone had had an accident. Literary devices are used predominantly throughout Boyne’s novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The use of puns and foreshadowing are just two of the literary devices Boyne uses to inspire action amongst the readers.

Bruno’s sister, Gretel is referred to as the ‘Hopeless Case’ throughout the novel, this is not only demeaning but puts down females in general as women are seen as the least powerful out of both genders. This inspires women to become more powerful and less dominated by men and to have their say, as they didn’t during the war period. The term ‘Out With’ is a pun for the place Auschwitz which was a concentration camp used to keep Jews in. ‘Out with the people who lived here before us, I expect’(Page 25).

The term ‘Out With’ was used to be understood as out with the Jews by killing them in the most humane way possible not out with the people who last lived in the house. This angers readers because it reminds them of the horrors of what the Jews must have gone through in the war and makes readers want to prevent this horrible act from happening again by accepting all races. Another literary device Boyne uses is foreshadowing. The reason author’s use this device is so as the reader is able to predict what happens next through the hints given. An example of one in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ is Bruno’s death.

A hint that was dropped by Boyne was that Bruno and Gretel had lice and Bruno’s hair had to be shaved off. ‘I look just like you now’ (Page185). This comment is made by Bruno when he visits Shmuel; he says this because all Jews had their hair shaved off like Bruno had. Bruno had started to depend on Shmuel as a friend and wanted to help him look for his father as an adventure and asked to have a pair of his own pyjamas so he looked like them, this was just another hint given to suggest that Bruno was going to be mistaken as a Jew when he entered the camp via the fence.

After he had climbed under the fence it had started to rain and when the whistle was blown they were taken to a separate building, here the reader was able to determine the fate of both boys. Bruno suggested they were just waiting there for the rain to stop, but they were pushed into the gas chamber and locked in. This was an expected, yet sad event that happened because two naive children were killed because of their race and friendship where they did everything together.

After reading the chapter many parents felt emotional and wanted their children close by to know that they were safe with them. Dramatic irony involves the reader knowing something about what’s happening in the plot, about which the character has no knowledge. Dramatic irony can be used in comedies and tragedies, and it works to engage the reader. The ironic part of the novel was the fact that Bruno dies in the same way as his Father had been killing Jews and in the same concentration camp.

The death of Bruno is very upsetting for the reader but the irony of the situation is very clear and expected. Bruno’s parents had been covering everything up about the war and what was happening to the Jews, but at the same time, Bruno knew two sides to the story and ended up failing to see the dangers of entering the camp because of his lack of knowledge. Following this event Father is unable to function and feels guilt in himself and the weight of the consequences for lying to his family and covering everything up.

‘He went to sleep every night thinking about Bruno and he woke up every morning thinking about him too’ (Page 215). This passage was taken to show the guilt and hatred in himself after what he did to his son and the affects of abusing his own power. This upset many readers because the reality kicked in that Bruno was in fact dead, people want equality throughout the world today and never want their child to be killed so don’t keep secrets or put them into dangerous areas where they could go exploring just as Bruno did.

By using these literary techniques Boyne was able to inspire action and reaction in readers. Nothing like the Second World War will ever happen again. There are wars and massacres, like the Rwanda massacre which still exist today but never again will someone take power over the world and brainwash people to kill others because of their race. By Boyne pointing out the horrors of war through a story and being able to convey such a strong message will challenge the reader to make a change and to be more socially accepting of different racial groups.

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: Holocaust Theme. (2017, Jan 11). Retrieved from

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: Holocaust Theme

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