82 pages 2 hours read

John Boyne

The Boy at The Top of the Mountain

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

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Symbols & Motifs

Uniforms and Identity

Throughout The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, uniforms represent questions of identity and belonging. This is a natural choice, given that clothing can express personality, and uniforms symbolize group identity. Uniforms are particularly important to Pierrot, since they are an obvious sign of belonging to a group. He desperately wants acceptance from others.

At Berghof, surrounded by Hitler’s soldiers and henchmen, Pierrot is bombarded by the sight of uniforms. He sees soldiers wearing some like “[a] pair of living statues,” and is envious of Ernst’s chauffeur suit (84). Reflecting on these, he realizes that he had always been enamored of uniforms and was always very curious about his father’s that hung in his closet back in Paris. Thus, when Hitler gives Pierrot the uniform of the Hitlerjugend, Pierrot is deeply honored. Nevertheless, the gift is not all wonderful; it fills him “with a mixture of anxiety and desire” as he recalls the youths on the train journey to Germany who had bullied him were wearing versions of this uniform (140). The fact that Pierrot decides in this moment to accept the uniform, despite knowing its violent implications, signals the transformation of his personality while also pointing back to his search for identity and acceptance: “those boys [on the train] had been afraid of nothing and were part of a gang.