The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a young adult novel by writer John Boyne. In this novel, a young boy is frustrated when he learns that his family has been forced to relocate due to his father’s new job in the German military. The family’s new home is in the middle of nowhere where young Bruno has no one to play with and nothing to do with the exception of exploring the boundaries of the odd fenced-in compound next door to the family’s home. In the end, Bruno does make a friend, but this friend is trapped behind the fence, destined to never play with Bruno with the abandon of most kids their age. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a child who comes to see the unfairness of it in a way only innocence can reveal.
Bruno comes home from school one day to discover that his family is preparing to move. Bruno has always lived in Berlin and therefore he is greatly distressed by this move. Bruno’s distress increases when he discovers the family will be moving to a house in the middle of nowhere that is much smaller than their previous house. Bruno begs his father to allow them to return to Berlin, but Bruno’s father explains that the job has been given in this new place is a very important job and that it is imperative to his father’s career that they all remain where they are.
Bruno can see out his bedroom window an odd-fenced compound next door to the family’s home where hundreds of children appear to live. When Bruno shows this view to his sister, they both realize that the people are not all children, but they appear to be because the clothing they are wearing looks like striped pyjamas. Bruno wonders who these people are, but no one seems willing to talk about them.
As part of his father’s job, there seem to always be soldiers around the house. One morning, Bruno decides to build a tire swing in the front yard. One of the soldiers orders an elderly man, a servant in the house, to help Bruno. Later, when Bruno falls from the newly constructed swing, the servant comes to his aid. This servant, Pavel, cares for Bruno’s wounds. When Bruno asks about his knowledge, Pavel reveals that he was a doctor before the war. Bruno is confused as to why Pavel no longer works as a doctor. Maria, the family’s maid, tells Bruno that Pavel cannot work as a doctor any longer because he is a Jew.
A short time later, Bruno begins exploring the fence that divides his family’s property from the compound next door. When Bruno has walked for what seems like hours, he comes across a young boy about his own age. This boy, Shmuel, lives on the other side of the fence. Shmuel tells Bruno how he once lived above his father’s watch store, but the soldiers came and first moved his family into a single room they were forced to share with many others and then brought them to this camp.
Bruno and Shmuel begin meeting nearly every day after Bruno’s lessons. Bruno often brings Shmuel food, when he does not eat it himself on the long walk, because Shmuel seems hungry. Then one day Bruno is surprised to find Shmuel in his house, given the job of cleaning the fancy glasses owned by Bruno’s mother. Shmuel gets into trouble after eating some chicken Bruno gave him. Bruno was afraid to tell the truth, allowing the soldier to believe Shmuel stole the chicken.
To make amends to Shmuel for lying about the chicken, Bruno hatches a plan to go into the compound dressed like Shmuel to help while Shmuel looks for his father. On that day Shmuel and Bruno search the entire compound for Shmuel’s father, but never find a single clue. Finally Bruno decides he must go home for dinner. However, Bruno and Shmuel find themselves in the middle of a large group of people when the soldiers come and force the people into a small building. Shmuel and Bruno hold hands as people begin to panic in the small room.
Bruno’s parents search frantically for Bruno for weeks after he disappears. Finally Bruno’s mother returns to Berlin with his sister. A year after his disappearance, Bruno’s father visits the place where Bruno left his clothing, finally realizing what happened to his son. When the Allied soldiers come a few months later, Bruno’s father no longer cares what they might do to him.
Chapter wise Summary :
The novel begins in Germany in the 1940s. Bruno comes home from school to find the maid, Maria, packing his things because the family is moving away from Berlin. Bruno’s not happy about this and whines to his mom, dad, Gretel, the maid, and her dog (we kid… about the dog part). But Bruno’s out of luck; his father just got a promotion and they’re moving on up, whether he wants to or not.
Adding to Bruno’s troubles, the family’s new house is weak with a capital W—it’s smaller than their old house, super isolated, and there’s a huge wire fence near the property. Ugh. While Bruno unpacks his things, he spots a sketchy looking blond soldier and takes an immediate disliking to him. He notices a window, looks through it, and sees something that makes him feel “cold and unsafe”… Dun dun dun.
Bruno tells Gretel that the other children look unfriendly. Wait a second… There are other children? Yep, turns out Bruno’s window has a lovely view of the Auschwitz death camp. Yikes. Bruno thinks it’s weird that there are tons of kids and adults on the other side of the fence and even weirder that they all wear the same striped pajamas and striped cap.
After a few weeks, Bruno decides that he needs to find some sort of entertainment or he’ll go mad. His grand idea? Why, make a tire swing, of course. Lieutenant Kotler helps him out and orders Pavel, a Jew, to get a tire from the storage shed. Pavel sets Bruno up and soon the kid’s happily swinging—well, until he falls.
Luckily, Pavel comes to Bruno’s rescue; while he cleans him up, he tells Bruno he’s a doctor. But this doesn’t make any sense to Bruno—after all, the guy works in the kitchen peeling potatoes. Soon after, Bruno’s mother comes home and discovers what happened. She tells Pavel that if the Commandant asks, she cleaned Bruno’s wounds.
Bruno has a flashback to the last Christmas with his family and his grandparents. Here’s what went down: Grandma told Bruno’s father that she’s ashamed of what he’s become and can’t believe what he and other Nazis are doing, then she stormed out. It’s the last Bruno’s seen of her. Back in the present, months pass and Bruno decides to go exploring, which basically involves walking along the length of the wire fence that separates his family from the concentration camp. Some adventure.
During his exploration session, Bruno comes upon a boy sitting on the ground in pajamas and an armband (featuring the Star of David). Bruno is kind of shocked by how small and sad looking the boy is, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? And Bruno could really use some company. Schmoozing ensues, and it turns out that the boy’s name is Shmuel and he and Bruno share a birthday. Shmuel is from Poland and informs the oblivious Bruno that they’re in Poland and not in Germany like Bruno’s been thinking. When they part ways, they plan to meet again tomorrow.
Time for another flashback, this time to when Hitler came to dinner. He brought his girlfriend, Eva, and Bruno and Gretel were not allowed to have dinner with the adults. Aw shucks. Afterward, Bruno heard his parents arguing about the move, which his mother was totally against.
Back in the present, it’s the next day, so Bruno returns to the fence. Shmuel explains what happened to him and his family before coming to the camp.
Soon after, Bruno walks into his kitchen and is shocked to see Shmuel cleaning crystal glasses—turns out his pal’s been brought to the house by Kotler to clean glasses for Father’s birthday celebration. What should be a cool catch up turns disastrous when Bruno offers Shmuel chicken (he eats it, of course) and Kotler catches him and gets mad (of course). Shmuel says Bruno gave it to him and that they’re friends—but like a punk, Bruno says he’s never seen him before in his life. Ooh… not cool, Bruno.
After more than a year, Bruno’s mother wants to move back to Berlin with the kids. Bruno’s not as happy as he thought he’d be about this idea, though, and dreads breaking the news to Shmuel. However, as it turns out, Shmuel has bigger fish to fry: His dad’s gone missing. The boys hatch a plan for Bruno to dress up in pajamas and help Shmuel find his dad before he leaves Auschwitz on Saturday. The next day, Friday, Bruno goes to the fence.
He changes into his striped pajamas, leaves his things on his side and crawls under the fence. The two boys walk toward the camp and Bruno realizes that things are very bad on Shmuel’s side. Bruno wants to go home, but he’s promised Shmuel he’ll help, and as a loyal friend, he stays. Unfortunately, though, they don’t find Shmuel’s father.
Just as Bruno is about to head home, the boys are surrounded by soldiers and forced to march. They’re led to a gas chamber (neither boy realizes this), and once inside, they hold hands. The lights go off, chaos ensues, and we, unfortunately, know that the end of their story is not going to be happy.
The last chapter shows how the family deals with Bruno’s disappearance: His mother and Gretel eventually go back to Berlin, but his father stays in Auschwitz. One day he has an epiphany, retraces Bruno’s steps, and realizes with horror what happened to his son. The novel ends with “other soldiers” (a.k.a. the Allies) coming to Auschwitz and ordering him to go with them.
Please watch following video to understand the story of ‘The Boy in The Striped Pajamas’
Let’s some questions , this will help you check your understanding :
Practice for Chapters One to Five
- Why is Maria packing Bruno’s things? (page 3)
- Why must Bruno’s father move away to do his job? (page 4)
- What matters most to Bruno in Berlin? (page 9)
- What did Bruno hope to see outside his bedroom window? (page 20)
- Why do you think Bruno always tries to be honest with himself? (page 21)
- Who first called the new home ‘Out-With’ and why did they do that? (page 24)
- How could the house serve as a symbol for Bruno’s family? Why is it important to not pass judgments based on appearances?(page 26)
- Why is there no greenery in the distance after the fence? How could this be symbolic? (page 32)
- In chapter four, Bruno states his age. How else do you know Bruno is young?
- What is the tone of chapter four? What occurs in the chapter to set the tone? (page 38)
- Why does Mother feel they should never have let the Fury come to dinner? (page 40)
- Why was Mother so startled by Maria’s sudden appearance? (page 40)
- While Bruno is at the train station, he notices two trains separated by a platform. What is the author’s purpose for including this description? How does Bruno feel about the trains? (page 41)
- How does Father’s office compare with the rest of the house? (page 45)
- What is Bruno’s relationship like with his Father? (page 46)
- According to Bruno’s reasoning, why was his father assigned to work at Out-With? (page 50)
- How does Father explain the people in the huts in the distance to Bruno? (page 53)
Chapters Six to Ten
- How does Maria respond to Bruno’s question about living at the new house? (page 58)
- Why does Maria defend Father? (page 60)
- Why was Bruno proud of his Father after hearing Maria’s story? (page 62)
- After talking to Maria, how has Bruno’s opinion of her changed? (page 63)
- What is Maria’s advice to Bruno after their talk? (page 64)
- How does Mother prove she is a decent person? (page 68)
- What does Bruno decide to do for fun? (page 70)
- What does Lieutenant Kotler do to make Gretel and Bruno uncomfortable? (page 75-76)
- What happened to Bruno on the tire swing? Who rescues him? (page 78-79)
- Before he became the family’s waiter, what did Pavel do for a living? (page 82)
- Why does Mother say she’ll take credit for mending injury? (page 85)
- What was the best part about acting with Grandmother? (page 88)
- What happened after the last play’s performance? (page 89)
- How are appearances important? (page 91)
- Why is it important to speak your mind? (page 91)
- How is Bruno’s costume similar to Father’s uniform? What could this symbolize? (page 92)
- What does Bruno want to do when he is older? How is this occupation meaningful to the story? (page 102)
- According to Bruno, what are two categories of discovery? (page 105)
- Why does Shmuel wish he had a name all his own? Why is this important? (page 109)
- What do Bruno and Shmuel have in common? (page 109)
- How does this novel support a theme of discovery?
Chapters eleven to fifteen :
Keep reading on the next page to cover the remaining chapters. After the chapter questions we’ll dive into some additional tasks you can do to better understand ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’.
- According to Bruno, why was the Fury rude? (page 122)
- Why did Bruno’s parents argue after their dinner guests left? (page 124)
- How does Bruno’s arrival at Out-With differ from Shmuel’s arrival? (page 130)
- Why does Bruno decide not to share the news about his new friend with his family? (page 133)
- What is Maria’s religion? How do you know? (page 137)
- Describe Bruno’s personality? How does he change from the beginning of the story to this point?
- What does Shmuel want to do when he grows up? (page 139)
- Bruno claims his father is one of the good soldiers. Why is his statement ironic? (page 140)
- How does Shmuel know Lieutenant Kotler? (page 141)
- How does Bruno prove he is naïve about Out-With? (page 141)
- Why does Mother ask Bruno to not use the word ‘hate’? (page 143)
- Why did Lieutenant Kotler’s father leave Germany? Why is this news shocking to Father? (page 145)
- What did Lieutenant Kotler do to Pavel? Why didn’t anyone help Pavel?
- Why does Bruno want Shmuel to crawl under the fence? (page 150)
- Why does Bruno try to conceal mentioning Shmuel to his sister? (page 154)
- How did Bruno deceive his sister about Shmuel? (page 156)
- How does talking about Shmuel affect Bruno? (page 158)
- Why does Gretel make fun of Bruno? How is her jest ironic? (page 159)
- What were some of Bruno’s reasons for not liking Lieutenant Kotler? (page 162-163)
- Why is Shmuel in the kitchen? How did he get there? (page 166)
- How are Bruno’s hands and Shmuel’s hands different? Why is this significant? (page 167)
- Why is Shmuel afraid to eat the food Bruno has offered? (page 170)
- Why didn’t Bruno speak up to defend Shmuel? (page 171)
- What does Bruno say that finally wins Shmuel’s acceptance? How does Shmuel show he forgives his friend? (page 175)
Chapters Sixteen to Twenty
- Why does Bruno return to Berlin? (page 176)
- Why was Father sad? (page 177)
- Why would Grandmother be upset about the wreath from the Fury? (page 177)
- For Bruno, what is the best thing about life at Out-With? (page 178)
- How did Gretel’s room change? (page 180)
- What was wrong with Gretel and Bruno’s hair? (page 184)
- Why are Mother and Father shouting again? (page 187)
- What does Gretel miss about life in Berlin? (page 189)
- Why are Father and Gretel silent after Bruno’s remark about the children behind the fence? (page 191)
- What news does Bruno have for Shmuel? (page 194)
- Why did Shmuel stay away for so many days? (page 194)
- How do Bruno and Shmuel plan to play together? (page 199)
- How does the uniform Shmuel provides remind Bruno of his Grandmother? (page 205)
- What did Bruno expect to find behind the fence? What did Bruno discover instead? (page 207)
- What kept Bruno from going straight home? (page 208)
- What does Bruno do and say to comfort Shmuel? (page 212)
- Why did Mother stay at Out-With longer than expected? (page 214)
- What clues were discovered after Bruno’s disappearance? (page 215)
- What realization did Father piece together at the fence? (page 215)
- Why does the author state at the end of the story “Of course all of this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age”? (page 216)
Use a copy of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and a few sheets of blank paper to complete the following tasks. These tasks are designed to help you grasp the big picture about this novel and figure out exactly what the author is trying to teach you about people and events in history.
Connecting Themes in John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
When you consider the themes or life lessons about a story, you look at the story holistically and not in separate parts. Test your knowledge of the entire novel by thinking of ways to relate the following themes to events, characters, and conflicts.
Make a web diagram for each theme. Make sure to include information from the three categories of sources in the novel: the events, characters, and conflicts. As you recall information for each theme, organize your information. You’ll be surprised by the many connections you’ll create through these themes and the entire novel.
Compare and Contrast Characters and Settings
Authors often create characters to offset other characters in a novel. For every good guy, there should be a bad guy; for every good place, a bad place. In John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the author provides many opportunities for the reader to compare and contrast. Here are a few suggestions for comparison and contrast from the novel. Use a Venn diagram (two overlapping circles with three total sections to show how two things are different and how they are the same) to compare and contrast the following characters and settings.
- Bruno and Gretel
- Bruno and Shmuel
- Pavel and Lieutenant Kotler
- Berlin and Out-With
- Mother and Father