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In the New York Times Bestseller novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a tragic story of the World War II Holocaust is described. A German boy and his family moved to Poland for their father’s new job. The boy is never told about his father’s career but is observant about the environment around him and begins to get suspicious. Author John Boyne uses several rhetorical techniques such as dramatic irony, themes, figures of speech, and rhetorical appeals that seem as if a nine-year-old were writing about his life experiences.
The protagonist, Bruno, is a young German boy who is part of a wealthy family living in Berlin. His father is a commander of the German military and is responsible for the Auschwitz concentration camp. The family then has to move to a new place of residence, the Out-With, nearly 100 ft away from the concentration prison camp. Although Bruno’s father is a leader in the persecution of the Jews, Bruno and the rest of his family are innocent Germans. The author uses the third-person point of view because the story is narrated in the perspective of Bruno, a young innocent boy.
The story is contained with dramatic irony through Bruno’s cluelessness of the Holocaust. The reader understands why Jews are surrounded by a large wired fence, wearing striped clothing, because they are informed about the Holocaust. However, since Bruno is too young to have knowledge of and understand the cataclysm, this concept is beyond his knowledge. He believes his father is a “good man” because that is what his mother had persuaded him to think. Bruno is given little information about his father’s work and at one point questions if Father’s job is connected with the camp. When Bruno and his new Jewish friend Shmuel visit each other at the edge of the fence, Bruno is ignorant about Shmuel’s situation and how he must feel about being a prisoner. While Bruno secretly spends time at the camp, disguised as a prisoner with Shmuel towards the end of the book, he hears a piercing noise comparing it to the sound of gunshots. He is not aware the gunshot-like noises were actual sounds from the gas chamber. The two children observed prisoners “marching” to gas chambers, not knowing that they would never return. Although Bruno does not understand the meaning behind the situation, this environment is very traumatic for anyone to be in.
Boyne includes many themes within this tragic novel. The friendship between Bruno and his Jewish prisoner friend Shmuel is powerful. Although the two friends have never played together, they held a strong connection. For more than a year, while at the Out-With, Bruno would hike down to the edge of the camp fence boundaries to meet his friend and have long conversations. This made an impact on both of their lives. It distracted Bruno from his boring life at the Out-With and it kept Shmuel from being depressed while he was held hostage at the concentration camp. Boyne includes the theme of innocence as Bruno being the child of a Holocaust commander. Bruno has to observe the horrible environment his father created not knowing his father is behind all of the madness. War is a crucial topic of the novel because the story takes place during the bloody World War II. The Holocaust was a conflict within the war controlled by the German leader, Adolf Hitler. The author purposely included these themes to enhance the plot.
Boyne included many different figures of speech to amplify his diction choice. Bruno often refers to his older sister, Gretel, as a “hopeless case”. This is a metaphor referring to a theory that Gretel is one who will never excel in life. Bruno uses a metaphor when describing his first look at the house atmosphere at the Out-Wit: “Everything felt cool as if she was in the middle of nowhere.” He is using the term “cool” to refer to the temperature as well as the gloomy emotion he felt. Bruno narrates his time in the concentration camp, disguised as a prisoner. He observed, “…was some sort of disturbance towards the back, where some people seemed unwilling to march, but Bruno was too small to see what happened and all he heard was loud noises, like the sound of gunshots, but he couldn’t make it out what they were.” He is comparing the noise to the sound of gunshots. Bruno is misinterpreting the situation at the camp because he does not realize the Germans are killing and torturing the Jews. The prisoners are “marching” into a gas chamber to be killed. Towards the beginning of the novel, Bruno narrates about life in the city of Berlin. He uses imagery to describe how the shops are filled with color and how the stalls are filled to the brim with vegetables. Bruno uses personification when describing Lieutenant Kolter’s hair as: “his hair flopped down in exhaustion.” Although the hair is not alive, Bruno gives his hair a human-like trait.
In Boyne’s novel, he frequently uses the rhetorical appeals ethos and pathos. The Nazi leaders including Bruno’s father, feel as if they are higher in society than Jewish people. Bruno’s father actually refers to the Jews as inhuman. The pathos behind the story is mighty. The pathos after Bruno’s tragic situation is speechless. They affect how the audience views certain characters and events.
John Boyne’s story is well known as one of the greatest Holocaust novels ever to be told. The author uses a specific approach that affects the reader’s view of the 1940’s Holocaust. The style of writing gives the audience an image of what that time must have been like to live in. The author’s purpose for writing this historical fiction novel was to provide information about the events of the Holocaust through the eyes of an innocent child.
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