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Symbolism in The Boy in The Striped Pyamas

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Paulene Munn

on 8 September 2013

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Transcript of Symbolism in The Boy in The Striped Pyamas

The fence exists to segregate the Jews from the Germans.

9 year old German boy who is the son of the Commandant of Out-With.
Represents the innocent bystanders and hope. He shows us that friendship can be a powerful force which can overcome a physical and metaphorical boundary. Bruno represents those who are willing and able to "crawl" under the fence and treat people equally.
His naivety results in his own explanations for events. When speaking of the trains with Shmuel- "That's because you all crowded onto one train." When Shmuel has been beaten up- "There was a lot of bruising on his face... "Was it your bike?"
She is a middle-class wife of the commandant of out-with. She presents herself well and is well mannered.
Symbolism in
The Boy
The Striped Pyjamas

-"You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you're pretending to be." She knows that uniforms can be part of a performance, helping you feel that you can play the role you have been assigned.
-"Grandma was the only one who seem unimpressed."
-"standing there in your uniform...as if it means something special. Not even caring what it means really. What it stands for."
-Grandmother is the only German character to openly refuse to embrace the Nazi ideology. She represents the Germans that knew what was occurring and were brave enough to speak out but were silenced.
-She has a dramatic personality and loves to perform, sing and adores her grandchildren. Her relationship with her husband and son is dysfunctional due to their opposing views on the war. "Ashamed!...That a son of mine should be-"

The other side of the fence
Pavel is a Polish Jew , that ot taken from his home into a concentration camp and works as a servant that peels the potatoes

Pavel symbolizes the people who were affected by the Holocaust - they lost their jobs, names , lives , money , family , homes and lives. When Pavel is in the concentration camp he has to wear the striped pyjamas and then when he has to go and peel the potatoes he wears a white apron. Pavel probably got beaten to death by Kotler representing the death of people on the other side of the fence .
*kind hearted, caring , loyal , cares for the family even though the commadant is killing people off his race. He was a doctor before he came to the camp and helps Bruno when he falls off the swing.

Through Gretel, Boyne illustrates the dangers inherent in the Nazi methods of indoctrination. She represents the people who are brainwashed by Nazi propoganda.
The fence
Gretel''s brainwashing is condicted by her father, Kotler, the soldiers and her teacher., herr Lizst. She goes along with it,even though she does not fully understand it. She has a crush on Kotler who typfies the tall, blond, strong, good looking Aryan race ideal.
What it symbolises:
-the result of learned hatred and prejudice
-the extent of man's inhumanity to man
She soon 'grows up' losing her dolls and replacing them with maps., symbolising that she is following the Nazi ideology.
She understands their situation more than Bruno does but not entirely herself.
She symbolises the people who support the NAZI movement, even though she does so passively (...Mother went up to him and kissed him on the cheek and ran a hand across the front of it, commenting on how fine she thought the fabric was - page 90) but when they discover what is really happening they disagree but are too afraid or insignificant to make a change ( 'Work?' shouted Mother. 'You call this work?' page 187)
She is easily persuaded and will ty to get her own way. She thinks she is much smarter than Bruno.
Is the commandant of Out-With concentration camp.
He has a very powerful position as a high ranking SS officer and is devoted to Hitler and Nazism, shown by how proudly he wears his uniform which symbolises his power. - "This is my work. Important work. Important to our country. Important to the Fury." "We are correcting history here." He symbolises those people who knew what was happening, agreed with it and contributed to the killing of the Jews. He believes that Jews aren't people, "Those people...well they're not people at all Bruno."

"Stop it Kurt," said Gretel, drying her eyes. "He doesn't understand you. He's only nine."
"Gretel had decided that she didn't like dolls anymore..."
-9 year old boy from Poland father-watchmaker
-Moved to ghetto ,then to Outwith where they were all separated, father was gassed.
-Quiet, shy, non assertive
-Innocence shattered
-Doesn't understand the full extent of the situation.
-Represents the innocent people killed.
-Knows more than he lets on.
'He had very large eyes and they were the colour of caramel sweets'.

"Father spoke louder then Mother and that put a stop to their conversation."
"Father held a hand in the air, which immediately caused the other men to fall silent."

Father was ordered to go with them and he went without complaint and he was happy to do so because he didn't really mind what they did to him anymore."

"He froze..... Which meant that Father was in there and might have just heard everything Bruno had just said."
There are 'huge wooden posts, like telegraph pole, dotted along it, holding it up.' These symbolise that the prejudice and hatred for the Jews is being supported/kept up by the Nazis.
The fence is 'higher even than the house' which stops anyone getting over it. Metaphorically this means that the prejudice against the Jews is so large and strong it is almost impossible to break down or oppose, as it would be attempting to climb the fence.
The fence goes on 'further than [anyone] could possibly see'. This means that the prejudice against the Jews runs through the whole country; it is everywhere and cannot be escaped.
At the top of the fence enormous bales of barbed wire were tangled in spirals' which stops any Jews or Germans climbing over the fence to the other side. This symbolises how if anyone argues or disagrees with what is going on they will be silenced, for example the Grandmother. Just as they would be hurt if someone climbed the physical fence.
There wasn't any grass after the fence... instead the ground was made of a sand-like substance.' This shows how there is no life on the other side of the fence because lives are being destroyed and those who do live there are living in awful conditions.
What Bruno Sees:
-smoke stacks*, low huts
-no grass or greenery, instead sand
-skinny unhealthy people. "There were small boys and big boys, fathers and grandfathers. Perhaps a few uncles too. And some of those people who lived on everybody's road...They were everyone."
-contrast between his side and the other side
-two types of people:
1) laughing, shouting soldiers in uniform
2) unhappy, crying, distracted Jews in matching pyjamas. Forced to wear the striped uniforms, the camp inmates are literally stripped of their individuality.
*Bruno doesn't understand the reason for its use but the reader does because of prior knowledge
-"All he could see was two different types of people: either happy, laughing, shouting soldiers in their uniforms or unhappy, crying people in their striped pyjamas."
-"...They were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pyjamas with a grey striped cap on their heads."
"they were all terribly skinny and their eyes were sunken..."
-"There were so many huts before them, and the camp spread out so much further than they could possibly see, that it looked as though there must be thousands out there.
John Boyne said, "More crucial for me is the moment when her dolls are taken down and replaced by maps...Gretel becomes indoctrinated."
John Boyne said she ' represents the voice of reason in German solciety at that time, the person who is willing to stand up and say no, to condemn what is going on and to try and get others to see the evil that they are responsible for. And of course this voice must be silenced so Grandmother dies halfway through the book. That last voice of reason is gone."
What's interesting about Father is that he is not one-dimensional. Boyne does not portray him as a complete villain. He showed kindness to Maria in the past and is devastated by Bruno's death.

More about the fence

How characters react to it:
P 20 Bruno looked out his window, "something made him feel very cold and unsafe."
P 28 Gretel is nervous before she sees over the fence for the first time…and ‘swallows nervously’
P 29 ‘the sun disappeared and she saw exactly what Bruno had been talking about.’
Gretel describes it as a "nasty-looking place".
P 32 “Gretel felt an unexpected pain inside her as she looked at the sharp spikes sticking out all the way round it.”

This fence symbolises something so bad that it sparks a physical reaction even from those who are on the right side of it.
Boyne uses characters to symbolise different groups of people in the German and Jewish communities.
Fences are associated with control and separation. They are man made barriers.
Boyne uses the fence (the literal fence and the metaphorical fence) to develop ideas about prejudice, its effect and how we can overcome it.
Grandfather, like Father, fully suports the Nazi regime. A WW1 veteran, he represents those who remember the First World War and believe that Germany needs to break free from the shame and humiliation created by the peace treaty of Versailles and regain her pride, power, and military strength. He is proud of his son's position: "It makes me so proud to see you elveated to such a responsible position. Helping your country reclaim her pride after all the great wrongs that were done to her."
Gretel's adoption of Nazi ways is also seen in the way she deresses. When the Fury and Eva Braun come to dinner, Gretel is wearing "a white dress and knee socks and her hair had been twisted into corkscrew curls" (page118). This outfit closely resembles the dress worn by the members of the League of German Girls to which Gretel, because of her age, probably belongs. (Bruno, on the other hand, is uncomfortable in his male Hitler Youth equivalent.)
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