In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, please help explain how the trains were symbolic of both boys' final journeys?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno is delighted to discover that he shares a birthday with his new friend Shmuel. He searches for other similarities between them but finds that Shmuel is from Poland and has an opportunity to mix with many other boys his age whereas Bruno is from Berlin and has no other friends. Bruno craves Shmuel's life because it seems so much more fun than his as he has an idealistic impression of how life must be in the camp.

In chapter twelve, the boys discuss how they arrived in "Out-With"- Bruno's mispronunciation- and Bruno thinks that Shmuel is exaggerating about living conditions before he came to the camp because it is a ridiculous notion to Bruno to consider eleven people living together in one room. As Shmuel continues his story and talks about the train ride, and is clearly emotional, Bruno wonders why. Bruno remembers the trains at the station when he left Berlin and tries to explain to Shmuel how easy it would have been to get off the crowded train he talks about. He relates his own experience of when he sees so many people on one train when the train he is on is practically empty. He finds Shmuel's version of events, and how there were no doors on the train he was on, quite strange and unlikely.

it is ironic and very symbolic that both boys arrive at the camp by train but under very different circumstances - although Bruno can only see the similarities. The trains reveal that, ultimately, the boys are more alike than, certainly Bruno's Nazi father, will admit. The boys' experiences are so different, and yet their fate is the same. The trains are a cautious reminder to the reader that there are no real differences, only perceived ones. No matter what circumstances lead to the tragic ending, the fact remains that their journeys converge and become one journey and no attempt to separate carriages and passengers on the trains, show identity with armbands and striped pajamas, or keep the boys apart by forbidding any interaction, ultimately matters. Trains can signify change, and in this story, there are attempts to transform the metaphorical "landscape" into something unrecognizable. However, for all the changes and "removals," the boys cannot be separated and no-one even notices their differences at the end.  

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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