In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, what actually happened to the boys at the end? Did Bruno die?
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In the novel, Bruno is last seen standing in the gas chamber with Shmuel, holding hands and waiting. Reference is made to "the chaos that followed," which can easily be taken to mean the chaos of the inmates being gassed. In the epilogue, Bruno's father, Ralf, finds his clothing by the fence and figures out what must have happened. Bruno never appears in the epilogue of the novel, so his fate is strongly implied but ultimately unknown.
In the film, the beginning of the gassing scene is actually shown, with guards pouring Zyklon B capsules into the chamber and the prisoners starting to panic. Bruno's father finds the empty dormitory and breaks down, shouting Bruno's name. It is possible but very unlikely that Ralf is able to save Bruno in the film, as Zyklon B is fast-acting.
Both versions end, in the most literal interpretation, with both Bruno and Schmuel dying in the gas chamber.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is historical in nature but is a fictional story which reminds readers of the disaster and tragedy of Nazi occupation. Bruno must move because of his father's profession which, in itself, is nothing unusual but he would thrive in a situation where he is allowed to develop and mature at his own pace. He is forbidden from exploring and making new friends is impossible. It is significant that it is Bruno's father's behavior which, in fact, directs Bruno's actions. The boys are thrust together by circumstance and this story indicates the tragedy and futility of war and also highlights the similarities between these innocent children, regardless of which side they are supposedly on. Bruno and Shmuel come from worlds so far removed from each other that an event of this nature should not be possible. However, John Boyne skillfully points out through Bruno's character, there are more things that unite Bruno and Shmuel than there are things that separate them.
Bruno's father, a powerful Nazi Commandant, has convinced himself that "Those people...well, they're not people at all..." (chapter 5). This is ironic considering that Shmuel is Bruno's only friend with whom, if his father is correct, Bruno has "nothing in common." However, Bruno and Shmuel share an unexplained bond, which starts with them sharing a birthday. After a year of meeting and chatting, Bruno is due to return to Berlin and so he and Shmuel discuss the possibility of him going to Shmuel's side of the fence. Bruno's hair is short, having been shaved to avoid lice and, as Shmuel points out, he is a little "fatter," but, otherwise, in a "pair of striped pajamas" he would look essentially the same as Shmuel and they can go on a "final adventure" in the camp. Bruno is excited at the prospect of "exploring" and Shmuel is anxious that Bruno will help him look for "Papa," who has apparently gone missing. The boys sense that this will seal their friendship and is a good way to say "goodbye" (chapter 18). The reader senses that this foreshadows more sinister events to follow.
Bruno is shocked that he has to walk barefoot and that he sees mostly sad faces; the camp is nothing like he expected. He and Shmuel find no trace or "evidence" of Shmuel's papa either so Bruno is about to make his way back to the fence and go home when a whistle sounds and the boys find themselves in the middle of a crowd. They are ushered into an "airtight" room and Bruno tells Shmuel he is his best friend and holds his hand but has no idea whether Shmuel replies because "at that moment, there was a loud gasp from all the marchers..." and Bruno can hear nothing. He wonders about the darkness but in his innocence presumes it is related to the fact that it is raining outside. After that, "Nothing more was ever heard of Bruno..." The reader knows what has happened and takes solace in the fact that Bruno is not afraid in his last moments and that Shmuel has his friend with him. The boys have evidently been gassed.
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