Kosinski emphasizes social change in his chilling account of the nightmares of World War II. As Hitler uproots Europe, a young boy experiences horrors unimaginable to Western civilization. Despite the unrelentless actions of the villagers toward the strange boy, the reasons for such actions changed from those of fear of the boy himself to the fear of the punishment administered by the Germans had learned about the boy living in the village. As the novel opens the young boy is looked at with fright and uncertainty as he possesses different physical traits than his peers: dark hair, dark eyes, and olive-colored skin.
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The villagers are afraid of his appearance and fear that he is a Gypsy who will only bring death and sorrow into their lives. As he is thrown from house to house, he is abused physically, mentally, and sexually as an attempt to ward off the evil that he is most certain to bring. He is treated as a slave and his pondering about the cause of his owner’s mistreatment of him only brings more questions to his innocent mind. The villagers are afraid of the boy and they believe that if they continually punish him, he will be too weak to summon evil. Soon Hitler and the Nazi’s constricted the chains against Jews and Gypsies as the Holocaust claimed more lives with each passing day.
The villagers now became afraid of the possible consequences if the Germans had learned about the boy living in the village. Instead of fearing the boy himself, they fear the punishment of having the boy amongst their people. While the abuse of the young boy didn’t change between villagers, the reason for the mistreatment changed dramatically as the world around them changed, showing social change.