What is the setting and social background in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno and Shmuel come from very different backgrounds. Bruno is a German, the son of a senior Nazi commandant. His home in Berlin is substantial and his life is privileged. The family has a maid, a cook and a butler to assist in running the home and Bruno's father is apparently very strict and business-like, with an office at home which is "out of bounds at all times with no exceptions." Bruno's parents have high expectations of good manners and obedience from their children and Bruno's mother is dutifully expected to attend to her husband's wishes and the demands his job places on the family. There is no doubt of the importance of Bruno's father. Bruno recalls how "Father held a hand in the air, which immediately caused the other men to fall silent" (chapter 5). 

Shmuel's family is quite different. Shmuel is Polish but can speak fluent German. Bruno believes that Germany must be "superior" (chapter 10) to Poland because of something his father said, but there is no malice when he says that and he has no idea how offensive his words are. This reveals more about the society in which he has grown up and his closed view. Shmuel's father is a watchmaker and the family used to live above Papa's shop. Unlike Bruno's strict family environment, Shmuel's family always used to eat breakfast together "until one day things started to change" (chapter 11). 

The setting in the story includes the social and historical aspect as revealed above and which has been established by this crucial part in the story when the boys cement their friendship. In their current circumstances, both boys find that they have a lot in common and their shared birthday is the first thing that gives them their special bond. The current location of "Out-With" which Bruno incorrectly pronounces is the main geographic setting which is contrasted with Bruno's home in Berlin and Shmuel's carefree existence before both boys came to this "desolate" place. 

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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