In Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, how do Bruno's experiences cause him to change throughout the story?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bruno changes his perspective about friendship because of his interactions with Shmuel. He learns the meaning of loyalty, sacrifice, and courage.

When Gretel (his sister) demands information about his friend, Bruno pretends that Shmuel resides in his imagination. As Gretel taunts him for having an "imaginary friend," Bruno decides that he will tell her about Shmuel. He isn't worried about exposing his secret friendship with Shmuel because he has already convinced Gretel that Shmuel is imaginary.

As Bruno tells Gretel about Shmuel, we can see how Bruno has changed. He is no longer the peevish boy who complained bitterly about leaving Berlin and his best friends (Karl, Daniel, and Martin) behind. Now, he is Shmuel's friend, and he shows obvious concern for Shmuel's welfare. During his conversation with Gretel, Bruno quietly relates Shmuel's grief at discovering that his grandfather is missing. 

He recounts how sad Shmuel was when the latter told him the story of his missing grandfather. After Bruno finishes speaking, he suddenly realizes that he neglected to comfort Shmuel or to offer him words of encouragement. Bruno is horrified at his seeming insensibility to Shmuel's emotional anguish, and he privately berates himself. He decides to apologize to Shmuel for his insensitivity the next day.

Bruno's behavior shows that his interactions with Shmuel have changed him. He has become more sympathetic in nature and is less absorbed with his private grievances. Before he returns to Berlin, Bruno offers to help look for Shmuel's father (who is now missing).

At the camp, Bruno is devastated by what he sees: soldiers in uniform mistreating unhappy, crying prisoners in "striped pajamas." The scene destroys his previously composed mood, and he tells Shmuel that he wants to leave. However, Shmuel reminds Bruno of his promise to help look for his father. In the end, Bruno stays. He keeps his promise, despite his fear.

Presumably, the boys die after a group of soldiers corral them into a gas chamber. Bruno's last words testify to how he has changed. Even though he senses that something is wrong, his focus is on comforting Shmuel. No matter what happens, Bruno insists that he will be by Shmuel's side.

'...when you come to Berlin, that's what we'll do. And I'll introduce you to ... Oh, what were their names again?' he asked himself, frustrated because they were supposed to be his three best friends for life but they had all vanished from his memory now...'Actually,' he said, looking down at Shmuel, 'it doesn't matter whether I do or don't. They're not my best friends any more anyway.' He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel's tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly. 'You're my best friend, Shmuel,' he said. 'My best friend for life.'


yscorse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bruno, the nine-year-old protagonist of John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, matures over the course of this coming-of-age story. Bruno’s first person narration creates moments of poignant dramatic irony as the reader understands what is really taking place at “Out With” (Bruno’s mispronunciation of Auschwitz) while Bruno remains blissfully ignorant. This tension between Bruno’s naiveté and his emerging understanding is at the center of his character’s development.

When Bruno’s family first moves from Berlin to “Out With,” Bruno is self-absorbed, hating his new home and completely unaware of the horrors taking place on the other side of the fence. Bruno is curious by nature, but, while he fancies himself an explorer, he ironically fails to question what his father really does, why the rules of social status dictate that some are servants and others are served, or why his new friend looks skinny and sad. Bruno gazes from the window of his new home but decides he “didn’t like to look out of it because then I would see the wall and I hated the wall.” Bruno spends his time whining and complaining, oblivious to others’ feelings or experiences. Early in the story, he chooses to look away rather than confront harsh reality. Bruno’s childish embrace of ignorance serves as a metaphor for those citizens who decided to be silent in the face of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Bruno does, however, grow in understanding and maturity throughout the story. Through interactions with Pavel and Maria, servants in his family’s house, Bruno begins to broaden his perspective and develop empathy. The central relationship of the story, though, is the friendship that develops between Bruno and Shmuel, the boy in the striped pyjamas on the other side of the fence. Bruno’s motives at first are selfish; the friendship simply quells his loneliness. Bruno pushes away disturbing thoughts about his new friend, thinking, “sometimes people who were sad didn’t want to be asked about it.” Later when Shmuel appears in Bruno’s home helping as a servant, Bruno betrays his friend by denying knowing him, causing Shmuel to be harshly punished. Later, Bruno regrets his actions, and Shmuel forgives him. The true turning point of the story that reveals Bruno’s growth occurs toward the end when Bruno goes under the fence with Shmuel, wears the same striped pyjamas, and, despite his fear, decides to stay with his friend rather than flee. Bruno takes Shmuel’s hand in his own and says, “You’re my best friend Shmuel, my best friend for life.” This act of loyalty seals Bruno’s fate with Shmuel’s as they are led to a gas chamber.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno's experience in befriending Shmuel significantly changes him.

As the story opens, Bruno is unhappy.  He dislikes being in Auschwitz because of what he left behind in Berlin.  Bruno is incapable of moving past how he has no friends. After being so popular in Berlin, Bruno feels alone in Auschwitz.   Bruno is even intrigued at "the people in the striped pajamas" because he figures  they are having more fun than he is. However, when he makes friends with Shmuel, Bruno changes.  As his friendship with Shmuel grows, Bruno no longer pines for what he left behind.  He changes in that he now wants to stay in Auschwitz. When he hears of the plans to move back to Berlin, Bruno is saddened.  This is a distinct change from when he marched into his father's office and insisted that he does not feel "at home" in Auschwitz.  The full extent of Bruno's change is seen when he feels bad telling Shmuel that he will leave.  When they decide to embark on one final adventure, Bruno is excited, a stark change to how he was at the novel's start. In their final moments together, Bruno cannot remember the faces or names of his Berlin friends. He shows tremendous change in how he clutches Shmuel's hand, and tells him they are "best friends for life."  Bruno's friendship with Shmuel is an experience that profoundly changes him.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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