set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne
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The barbed-wire fence is a physical separation between Bruno and Shmuel. What other types of separation does the fence represent in this story?

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The fence could also said to represent the separation between truth and fantasy. Those on one side of the fence, such as Bruno and his family, live in a Nazified fantasy world in which the heroic master-race is superior to all other races and therefore has the right to do as it pleases. According to the warped Nazi world-view, concentration camps are part of a bold, radical policy that will ensure the future strength and security of the German people. It is this fanatical ideology by which Bruno's father lives, and by which, if necessary, he is prepared to die.

On the other side of the fence, the sordid realities of the Nazi Empire are there for all to see. There's nothing noble or heroic about the gigantic program of genocide being carried out by the Germans. This is mass murder, pure and simple. And yet the Germans, still stuck in their deranged fantasy world, are not prepared to face up to this sickening reality. They think they're acting as benefactors of humankind in destroying a race of people that they regard as a perennial threat to humanity.

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The fence is a symbol of the conceptual construction of difference attributed to arbitrary criteria. The Jews who were rounded up and incarcerated in Auschwitz, as well as other death camps, were selected solely because of discrimination, which was primarily attributed to their different religious beliefs and ostensibly related customs. Other groups that the Nazis treated the same way included Romani, gay people, and the disabled.

For Bruno specifically, the fence stands for the line between innocence and knowledge. Bruno’s family has tried very hard to shelter him from the information about his father’s job and the related atrocities that the Nazis were committing. Their success has been accompanied by Bruno’s misunderstandings of names and titles. When he decides to cross the barrier, he is entering into a realm of choice and free will. Although he cannot anticipate that loss of innocence will also be loss of life, before his death, he learned much of the horrible truth of the camp.

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The barbed-wire fence can also be interpreted as a separation between the opinions of Bruno and Shmuel regarding Nazi soldiers, viewed as honorable versus as a source of terror.

This is indicated in the conversation between the boys in chapter 13. Bruno has a very high opinion of his father, demonstrating pride and respect for his father's accomplishments. He tells Shmuel that his father wears an impressive uniform and that "the Fury" himself had promoted him to commandant. Of course, Bruno is completely unaware of the atrocities committed by soldiers of the Nazi regime.

By contrast, Shmuel tells Bruno that there are no such thing as "good" soldiers, as the only ones he has been exposed to are cruel and lacking humanity. In response, Bruno acknowledges that some soldiers are bad, but is father is a good soldier. The boys are unable to reach an agreement, highlighting how sheltered and naive Bruno is and how vastly different their lives are.

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The fence in the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is symbolic of several different forms of separation. The fence can symbolize the difference in ethnicities, one being Jewish, the other being German. Jews were separated from Germans and forbidden from interacting with the general population under the Nazi regime. This separation is portrayed by the long fence around the Auschwitz concentration camp that confines the Jews inside the fence. The fence separates civil society from inhumane lawlessness. On Bruno's side, he is treated with compassion and lives in a relatively comfortable, safe environment. Shmuel lives in constant fear, where the Nazi guards are void of morality. Violence and intimidation are commonplace on the Jewish side of the fence, and hundreds of Jews are slaughtered at random times throughout the day. The fence can also symbolize a barrier between hope and doom. The Jews are doomed and live with the reality that they will more than likely die in the camp. On the other side of the fence, Bruno and his family members feel confident that they can impact their own future. This is evident by their decision to travel back to Berlin. The most obvious separation that the fence represents is that of freedom and oppression. The Jews are oppressed on their side of the fence and are forbidden to leave Auschwitz. They have no say or control over their daily lives. Unlike the prisoners, the Germans are free to travel and have the convenience of pursuing their own individual happiness.

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