The Construction of an Active Reader in two Holocaust themed novels for children: Hitler’s Daughter (1999) and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006) as Bildungsroman

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Abstract

This article argues that two significant recent influential historical novels about the Holocaust, Hitler’s Daughter (1999) and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006), reprise the genre traits of the Bildungsroman or novel of development and can be regarded as remarkably effective in engaging an active reader. Both novels, intended for children and younger adolescent readers, are focused on initially sequestered child protagonists from a perpetrator culture who are unable to fully understand their circumstances but undergo formative experiences by leaving ‘home’, legible both as a physical domicile and a site of indoctrination and repression. As they journey away from a limited conception of biological family the novel’s protagonists are able to reject constricting modes of social conditioning that repress authentic self-expression, curiosity, and impartial ethical judgment. In both novels the protagonists transform their perception of their circumstances by becoming resourceful bricoleurs, unearthing imaginative possibilities in their immediate environment that allow them to forestall emotional isolation and the dehumanization of designated ‘Others’ such as the Jews. The article suggests that while The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been read as reinforcing the myth of German innocence, its typological representation of a ‘dangerous family’ and its implied affirmation of Bruno’s explorative instincts, empathetic capacities, and commitment to friendship, allow a reader greater recognition of the ‘banal ideologies and institutions occupied by the perpetrator’ (Ann Rider).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalChildren's Literature in Education: an international quarterly
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jun 2020

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