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World War II repercussions made Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. write about the people who were forced out of their homes due to war, but living in their countries, who are commonly referred as “Displaced Persons” (D.Ps). With special attention on displaced children in Germany, Vonnegut crates and epic moving story of all times on DPs. On the outskirts of a small town in an abandoned hanger, the events of his story are based where the hanger is changed to an orphanage for displaced boys. Vonnegut expresses and emphasizes on the plight experienced by displaced persons especially the children during and after the World War II in his short story of D.Ps. To achieve his goal he introduces a young American black boy living in the orphanage which is run by nuns. The locals mock the boy and discriminate him because of his race. The writer shows the struggle of the boy, Joe, searching for his identity because he feels not human among the Germans. Later in the story a sign of hope is seen by Joe after witnessing the arrival of American soldiers who look like him.
Vonnegut starts his story by showing race discrimination and stereotyping. This is seen when the nuns take the children out. A carpenter sees the children from far and says, “look at that French girl”, look at those flashing eyes” referring to Joe. This statement shows race stereotyping since the old carpenter thinks only the French have such flashing eyes. To his surprise he finds out that the flashing eyes belong to an African-American. Consequently, the carpenter makes a racial discriminatory statement by calling him Joe. Later on we find the carpenter saying sarcastically, “look-look who is coming now” when he sees Joe coming to the village. It is imperative to note that the boy was named Joe by the carpenter after and old black man who was a former heavy weight champion (the only black person known by the Germans in that town).
In the orphanage we find another boy, named Peter, who is trusted by Joe. Nevertheless, this boy’s intentions to Joe are evil since he lies to him on his identity considering Joe knowing his identity was his biggest desire. Peter makes up stories on Joe’s identity, for instance, he is quoted telling Joe that his mother had left him in the orphanage and went away perhaps because of his skin color. Joe gets a mixture of feelings since he is annoyed, confused, hurt, and relieved to have known the truth from Peter. Joe undergoes a psychological trauma inside the orphanage because of Peter’s stories. Therefore, displaced people get stress even in the camps they run to after they are displaced from their homes.
Some people have compassion to the D.Ps which is also seen in the case of Joe. The Nun in-charge of the orphanage sympathizes with Joe confused situation on his identity. When Joe asks her of his origin, she escapes the question by diverting him to other things. The approach taken by the nun is not appropriate since Joe is left more confused since he thinks that the nun hides something about him. The nun should have told Joe the truth that he is a black American rather than toiling around with his feelings. Therefore, as sympathizers of displaced persons we should take responsibility and tell them the truth so that they can heal faster from the heart break caused by the situation.
The psychological disturbance and suffering of this boy are vividly seen when he sets his eyes to a black American. On that instance, he calls the nun and in delight yells, “father” running toward the group of the black American soldiers. Eventually the nun reaches to him, and he does not make it to the soldiers thus embarrass himself and get more heart break. This is an extremely pitiful sight of a desperate boy searching for his parents and on seeing the first black man calls him father. Joe must have suffered a lot from the thought of his parents as well as the other displaced children.
One afternoon Joe escapes from the orphanage and visits the soldiers where he is welcomed warmly, and he feels good for the first time in a long time since he is not made fun by them as the Germans used to do. Because of the excitement, Joe wishes to leave the orphanage and go with the solders, but it is not that easy. This makes him terribly disappointed because he had thought that he had found his people who would take him home, but now they decide to leave him with the Germans who always mock him. This breaks the boy’s heart further, but he hopes that they will come back another time for him. This boy lives in a delusion of seeing the soldiers again which might affect him in the future if he finds out that the black soldier he saw was not his ‘papa’ as he refers to him and he will never see him again. Nevertheless, he is happy to have seen his ‘papa’ and speaks of him proudly to other children. This is a true picture of the emotional suffering endured by displaced children in orphanages since they always hope to see their parents and their people whom mostly they never get a chance to see.
It is clear that Vonnegut successfully shows the suffering of a young boy though discrimination and being ridiculed, who is in search of his identity which he never truly finds. However, the boy knows that he is not the only one whose skin is colored. It should come to our consensus that racial discrimination should not be tolerated at any level, and special care is a need by the displaced persons especially the children. Therefore, we should take it as our own personal initiative and change the situation as much as we can.
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