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66 pages 2 hours read

John Boyne

All the Broken Places

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Character Analysis

Gretel Fernsby

Content Warning: This section of the guide discusses child and domestic abuse, gaslighting, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and grooming.

Gretel is the main character and the narrator. The story is in her voice, so everything the reader sees and hears filters through her perspective. Whether Gretel is the protagonist or the antihero is a matter of perspective, one that Boyne invites readers to consider via Gretel’s characterization and the events that shape her life. Gretel’s father being the commander of Auschwitz might disqualify her as a traditional protagonist: As the product of a Nazi family, Gretel lacks a heroic background. She qualifies as an antihero—a main character with many faults—yet these faults invite sympathy more typical of a protagonist. She’s open about her struggles with her guilt, and her journey to make amends with the Western world is disarming. Like a traditional hero, Gretel is compassionate. She doesn’t turn her back on Madelyn and Henry but saves them from the brutality of Alex’s abuse. In 1953, her lack of cruelty precludes her from killing Hugo. She also looks after Heidi and helps her son despite his rapaciousness.

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