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

Expert Answers
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.'


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.

Read the study guide:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question