The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Questions and Answers
by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas book cover
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Identify an idea or event in the novel that relates to an idea or event that we see in real life, and explain how it connects to real life. Explain how this connection might help you or others to better understand the story.

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Jessie Canales, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, written by John Boyne, was first published in 2006. It is set during the Nazi regime and deals with the unlikely friendship between a German boy, whose father works as a “Commandant” at the concentration camp Auschwitz, and a Jewish boy who is a prisoner in the camp.

One of the main themes of the novel is the theme of innocence. Bruno is too young to understand what is going on around him, and he doesn’t understand politics. We can see this when he refers to Adolf Hitler as “The Fury” as opposed to “The Führer,” because he is unable to pronounce it properly. In Auschwitz, Bruno is blissfully unaware of what is going on around him, which is why he calls the prisoners’ uniforms “striped pajamas,” assuming that the people live voluntarily in the camp. He is simply a curious child, who takes interest in his surroundings and wants to explore.

Therefore, when he becomes friendly with Shmuel, a Jewish boy and a prisoner in Auschwitz, Bruno at first does not quite grasp the extent of the danger this brings for both him and Shmuel. This theme of innocence in children can help the readers of the novel to better understand the story, as most people will be able to relate to the natural innocence and curiosity within children. Curiosity and a desire to explore, without fully understanding potential dangers, are typical for young children all over the world. This makes this theme as valid today as it was in the time of the story. One could even say that being able to relate to Bruno’s innocence makes the book more tragic for the reader, as the sad ending is purely the result of this innocent curiosity. Bruno had no idea what danger he was about to enter. He was like any other young boy of his age: out and about with his friend, filled with curiosity, and trying to explore.

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This is, of course, a completely subjective question that could have any number of examples, but for the sake of giving just one, we should look closely at the story through the perspective of the protagonist, Bruno.

Consider the dinner party that Bruno's parents host for "the Fury" as an example for an event. When the Fury and Eva come to dinner, Bruno feels a childlike anticipation for meeting a character that is no doubt larger than life in his eyes. He knows that something is quite different about this person, as he is being called into his father's study, an incredibly rare occurrence. When Bruno finally meets him, however, he is shocked to find how rude he is.

As we grow in life, we are often shocked to find that the reality of people is often quite different than the fantasy around them. Being in family with the powerful and no-nonsense patriarch that is his father, Bruno no doubt believed that there would be no one in the world that could order his father around. However, Bruno is shocked to find that Hitler acts with complete arrogance toward his father and that his father is complying completely with Hitler's seemingly whimsical order to completely uproot his life.

One of the most defining moments of personal growth for people is the moment that they realize that their parents are just people. It could be a moment of weakness, a mistake, or injustice from a figure of authority that causes us to realize this. One way or another, however, we realize that our parents are exactly like us in terms of what they are capable of. Not everything is in their control, though we might believe this when we are young. Unlike many people, Bruno experiences this point very early in his development. He realizes early that his father is fallible and subject to the whims of higher powers. It is perhaps this early realization that makes his beautiful friendship with Shmuel possible: despite Bruno's innocence, it is an act of subversion.

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