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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Setting

The boy in the striped pajamas is set in Germany, within the time period of 1942.

Main Characters

Bruno- is the protagonist of the novel. Bruno is a nine-year-old German boy who misses the life and friends he left behind in Berlin after his family unexpectedly moves to Poland for his father’s job.

Shmuel- he is A Jewish boy who is the boy in the striped pajamas named in the novel’s title. Shmuel belongs to a family of Polish Jews who was arrested by German troops and imprisoned at Out-With Camp.

Father- he is Bruno’s father and a commanding officer within the Nazi Party who takes charge of operations for the Out-With Camp in Poland.

Mother- she is Bruno’s mother and spends her time caring for her children, managing the family’s servants, and presiding over every detail of the home.

Gretel- she is Bruno’s sister who is Three years older than Bruno. Gretel shares her brother’s grief about leaving Berlin.

Lieutenant Kurt Kotler- is A German soldier who is handsome and young. Kotler works for Father at the Out-With Camp.

Pavel- is an elderly Jewish man imprisoned in the camp.

Plot Summary

A nine-year-old boy named Bruno leaves his home in Berlin, Germany because His father has been promoted. They are moving to a small town called Out-With. The Fury, Adolf Hitler comes over for dinner at their house and invites the family to come to live with him which is what leads them to move away from Berlin. It will be hard for Bruno since he has many friends there but he does not really have a choice. Bruno’s Grandmother gets into an argument with Father on Christmas about how she thinks it is wrong that Father accepted the job offer from the Fury himself instead of just saying no like she did when the Fuhrer asked her if she would like to perform at one of his parties.

The family moves to a new home. It is the only house in an area with no other houses around it. They have two servants, Lars and Maria. Bruno is sad because he misses Berlin, his old home, but then he meets Pavel one day while playing on a tire swing outside. Pavel tells him that they are living near Auschwitz concentration camp, which has thousands of people wearing striped pajamas. Bruno is settling into his new home at Out-With. He doesn’t like the soldier who hangs around there, and he thinks that the guy’s girlfriend, Gretel, has a crush on him. The soldier beats up Pavel one day for spilling wine, which upsets everyone. Bruno gets lessons from a history teacher named Herr Liszt about why his family was sent to Out-With in the first place. Gretel becomes very interested in politics and news events by tracking them with pushpins on maps she puts on her wall.

Bruno misses exploring, and he finds a way to get around the fence by walking along with it. He meets Shmuel, who is also on the other side of the fence. Shmuel tells him that he was taken from his home in Poland to Auschwitz because he is Jewish. Bruno struggles to understand what life is like for Shmuel and how this can happen in Poland. However, he does as requested and brings food over the fence for Shmuel. Bruno becomes more comfortable at Out-With as he builds a friendship with Shmuel. One day, Lieutenant Kotler brings Shmuel inside the house to clean glasses for his father’s collection. Bruno gives him some chicken that he was saving and they are caught by Kotler. He asks if Bruno is friends with Shmuel and beats him when he says yes. Later, it turns out that Kotler has been transferred away from Out-With because of his own family history. He had fled Germany in 1938 at the beginning of World War II.

Eventually, Bruno’s mother convinces his father to move back to Berlin where they lived before. He agrees but will stay at Out-With because of work and the Fury. This saddens Bruno, who is going to miss Shmuel. They agree that the next day he will dress up in striped pajamas and explore Shmuel’s side of the camp with him so they can look for his father together. The next day, Bruno dresses up in pajamas that Shmuel has brought him and climbs under the fence. Inside he finds people who are sick and thin. Soldiers yell at them, but Bruno is scared so he wants to leave. However, Shmuel asks him to help find his father first. They look for a while without finding anything before the soldiers round everyone up for a march outside of camp. The boys comply because they are afraid that if they do not go with everyone else then something bad will happen to them. So they end up in a dark room together holding hands as the soldiers shut their doors and everything goes dark inside it.

Bruno is never heard from again. His mother and sister eventually return to Berlin, and his father becomes hated by the soldiers for his merciless orders. Bruno’s clothes and boots are found where he left them outside the fence when he changed, and one day Bruno’s father pieces together what must have happened to his son. He collapses from the weight of his realization, as he realizes that Bruno has met a grim fate at the hands of those soldiers.

Themes

  1. Boundaries. Bruno’s world in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is filled with places he is not allowed to go, and the reasons for these boundaries are rarely explained to him. He is never allowed into his Father’s office and he and his sister Gretel are often shooed away from dinner parties and important conversations behind closed doors.
  2. Nationalism. During World War II, the Nazi Party, which gained control of Germany, operated on the idea that ethnic Germans were superior to the rest of the world, particularly the Jewish population in Europe at the time. Nazi rhetoric and propaganda operated heavily on the idea of the "other”, emphasizing an "us vs. them” division, and demonizing and dehumanizing "them.”