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Please give a brief summary of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

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luckyyone | eNoter

Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:04 AM via web

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Please give a brief summary of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 18, 2013 at 7:45 AM (Answer #1)

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The central element of this story is the use of the child Bruno as a narrator to describe something that he is not capable of understanding: the holocaust. The power of this narrative lies in the way that what Bruno looks at and does not understand is all to understandable for the narrator. Bruno tells his story therefore as the son of a German commander who is placed in charge of a concentration camp and has to move there with his wife and children. However, Bruno, unbeknownst to his father, actually enters the concentration camp and befriends a Jewish boy called Shmuel, who, like him, has no real idea of what is going on in the concentration camp and why. All Bruno can see is that some people in this camp where pajamas and other where uniforms, yet it is clear that he does not understand why:

What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?

The author uses Bruno as a symbol of the reader who tries to make sense of this period but can't quite comprehend the enormity of the holocaust. As Boyne says in his introduction:

...only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.

By telling the narrative from Bruno's perspective, the reader is allowed to occupy this place of staring at the holocaust from the "other side of the fence," trying to make sense of it all. Of course, in the book, Bruno's lack of knowledge causes him to go behind the fence and share Shmuel's fate, moving from spectator to becoming inextricably caught up in history, and dying as a result, creating an unforgettable ending and highlighting the true horror of this brutal period of humanity's history. 

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