Journal of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research


John Shoemaker


This essay critically and rhetorically analyzes the persuasive use of words in Mark Herman’s film, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which centers on a highly unlikely friendship between a well-to-do German boy and Jewish boy in a concentration camp. The controversy surrounding the filmspecifically the rare and unpopular viewpoint of a German family’s experiences during World War IIprompted a further in-depth analysis of the film’s meaning. While Herman takes a unique viewpoint, I suggest that the film moves beyond the portrayal of a family unit and actually gives an explanation and object to blame for the atrocities associated with World War II. In analyzing the film, the rhetorical research findings are based on Kenneth Burke’s cluster criticism theory, which states that by forming clusters of words, the text of an artifact and in this case, the screenplay of a film, are used to symbolize and or convey a key concept, message or idea. Furthermore, the significance of the contrast between god and devil terms used throughout the film (god terms being associated with high cultural acceptance and devil terms being associated with extreme cultural abhorrence) suggests that while Herman was not fully aware of the rhetorical force behind his artifact, the film promotes the concept that the German people are not to be blamed for the atrocities associated with the Holocaust and are not the enemy during World War II. Instead, I reveal and support that the German people’s fear of exploration is the enemy. Even more significant is that “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is one of the first films of its kind in setting the stage for future rhetorical research and discussion regarding the German people and the fear of exploration that crippled them during World War II.