1. Book Title and Summary
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
2. Write a summary of the plot of the Holocaust novel/memoir you are currently reading.
This story of the holocaust is written from the perspective of a young boy, Bruno, whose father is a soldier, high up in the Nazi ranks. Bruno lives a privileged life in Berlin, in his five-storey house with his sister, mother and father; he is blissfully unaware of the war that is going on right outside his doorstep. One night, a special guest known as ‘the Fury’ joins Bruno’s family for dinner, he has a very short, funny looking moustache and a uniform more decorated than his father’s. Following the Fury’s visit, Bruno’s father is promoted and sent to ‘Out-With’ with his family. Initially Bruno hates it at Out-With, the house has only three storeys and he has no friends to play with, that is until he meets Schmuel. Schmuel is a young boy, one of thousands that Bruno sees playing on the other side of the fence at ‘Out-With’. Bruno is fascinated by the town he sees on the other side of the fence and wonders why he isn’t allowed to play with the boys in striped pyjamas. One day, Bruno and Schmuel decide to go exploring, to try and find Schmuel’s father who has gone missing. Bruno, disguised in a pair of striped pyjamas sneaks into the town where Schmuel lives. The boys are escorted into a chamber, Bruno assumes to protect them from the cold, but is sorely mistaken.
3. Describe the audience your novel is pitched to. Give an example of language use/characterization/plot/other literary devices that shows what the intended audience for this novel is.
This novel is pitched to anyone over the age of 11 or 12. The story is quite simple and uses language suitable for children. The characters are also very relatable for younger children because it is told from the perspective of someone who is perhaps similar to them. The book is written using dramatic irony, which is that the reader knows more than the protagonist. This only works with the assumption of certain knowledge of the holocaust, however basic. To understand the book, you must know what the holocaust was, who Hitler was and of gas chambers.
4. What do you think the author intended to achieve by writing this text?
I think the author intends to tell the fictional story of Bruno to simplify the holocaust and draw comparison between the definitive morality of children and the despicable acts of the Nazis in the holocaust.
5. What artistic choices did the author make to tell the story in a way that will affect readers (Give examples of these choices such as language use/ metaphor/treatment of historical occurrences)?
The artistic choice to write the story from the perspective of a naïve child ensures that the reader knows more than the narrator and protagonist. This gives the novel great strength because it requires us as readers to work to fill in the blanks and join the dots. For example, neither Bruno nor Schmuel know what a gassing chamber is or what will happen, only you as the reader know and that is what gives the story such powerful ending.
6. Is this text literature? Will it continue to tell its story through history?
I think this text is literature, it will continue to tell its story throughout history because it is different from a lot of stories that we hear; particularly testimonies by holocaust survivors. There is also not as much holocaust literature directed at young teens or children and this is suitable for a much younger audience, which makes this book unique.
7. How does reading this text compare with the experience of visiting the Holocaust Museum and listening to the testimony of a Holocaust Survivor?
a. The text does not explore the atrocities in such a horrific manner, perhaps because it is aimed at a younger demographic or perhaps because it is impossible to use words to describe the very graphic imagery that we saw at the Holocaust museum. The main criticism I had of the book after hearing the story of Willy, the Holocaust survivor, was that it did not fully convey just how horrifying the concentration camps were.
b. How important was it to you that your chosen text felt ‘true’ or ‘authentic’?
It was very important to me that the text felt that it was authentic. It was to a certain degree however, it didn’t have too much emphasis on the concentration camp and what happened there which would lead readers to have a less than adequate understanding of the incomprehensible acts of the German Nazis.
c. Do you believe there is a need for Art that uses the Holocaust as its subject matter when there is so much testimony and historical evidence available?
Yes, I think that before visiting the Holocaust museum, I didn’t understand how horrific the Holocaust really was, so there absolutely is a need to hear testimonies and see evidence. However, without literature to carry these stories through to future generations, it is impossible to be sure that the holocaust will remain to be as shocking and appalling to people who were not there and that it will not fade into history.
8. Which of the other Holocaust texts from our Literature Circle do you
wish to read now? Why?
Night, it seems to be very intense and shocking which is a contrast to ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas.’ It is also aimed at a much older, more mature audience. I think that reading a book which is based on a true story and that is more powerful will be confronting but interesting.