The setting of World War II Germany, specifically, in Auschwitz where the Nazi death camp is located, creates a sinister and foreboding atmosphere where the naive Bruno encounters hushed tones and cryptic words such as his mother's response to his wonderment that they would leave their beautiful home in Berlin for such a crude house in such a barren area.
"We don't have the luxury of thinking....Some people make all the decisions for us."
Bruno's mother's words are prophetic, indeed, as they underscore the situation of those in "striped pajamas" who are confined behind a formidable fence, symbolic of the genocide of the Jews under the Nazi Regime. And, they prove sadly ironic as, once Bruno steps on the other side of the great dividing fence, his end, too, is decided by a terrible fate.
In a nightmarish depiction of what Robert Frost wrote about in his poem "Mending Wall," "good fences" have not made for "good neighbors." Nevertheless, the same idea is present in both works: In their distrust and hatred, people create barriers that divide them from others; when some attempt to break down these barriers with love, as is so often the case, the brotherhood established among the few, when they manage
...to get to that one part of Out-With that didn't seem to be guarded all the time, a place where [one is]... lucky enough to meet a friend.....
cannot survive and is, consequently, destroyed by others.
The character of Bruno's father also illustrates the destructive power of many engaged in hatred as his allegiance to Nazism overrides his kinder nature. For, as Maria explains to Bruno in Chapter Six, years ago the commandant of the camp took her in out of charity and love for the memory of a loved one when she was starving and gave her the job of maid because she was the daughter of the seamstress for Bruno's grandmother. But, in his loyalty to "the Fury," as he is ironically called by Bruno, the father's allegiance to an ideology costs him his son. Indeed, the influence of death and hatred extends beyond the confines of mere fences, and setting gives great meaning to theme.