set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What are some internal and external conflicts in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

External conflicts in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas include World War II and the Holocaust. Internal conflicts in the novel could connect to Bruno’s feelings about moving and certain aspects of his relationship with Shmuel.

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To identify external and internal conflicts in John Boyne’s novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, one will have to identify altercations that are happening outside of Bruno and beyond his control, as well as confrontations that are happening within him and that he has some power over.

Two major altercations that are happening in the outer world are World War II and the Holocaust. In addition to conquering Europe, the Nazis put in place a system to exterminate so-called “undesirable” people, including Jewish people. As Bruno’s dad is a rising officer in the Germany army, the external events of World War II and the Holocaust impact Bruno personally and contribute to his inner conflicts.

After Bruno’s dad is put in charge of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Bruno and his family must move from their Berlin home and into a home near Auschwitz. Bruno doesn’t like their new home. Their new house lacks the size, mystery, and enchantment of their Berlin home. Instead of being surrounded by people, shops, and other forms of big-city excitement, Bruno is an “empty, desolate” place.

While the external conflict of World War II and the genocide of European Jews caused Bruno’s move, the external conflict produces an internal conflict: Bruno's opposition towards moving. Now Bruno has to deal with his own feelings and emotions about the move. He has to figure out from himself how to cope with this new setting.

Bruno’s internal conflict abut the change seems to lead to his friendship with Shmuel. This relationship can be described as a mix of internal and external conflicts. There are elements that Bruno and Shmuel can’t control, and there are parts about their friendship that they can, to some degree, control.

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In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas there are many internal and external conflicts. Bruno as a young boy is not privy to what it is that his father's new job is. Bruno struggles with the reality that is his life. 

The biggest external conflict is the what is happening to the Jewish people. Bruno's father is a commander in the German army and is in charge of the concentration camp. This position has caused Bruno's father to move the entire family out of Berlin. Bruno's mother and Maria, the maid, are unhappy there. The father is only concerned with advancing his career. Bruno is miserable that he had to leave his best friends and hates the new house. Bruno's feelings of being restless in the new place will lead to the biggest internal conflict of all.

Bruno had a pain inside him, something that when it worked its way up from the lowest depths inside him to the outside would either make him shout and scream that the whole thing was wrong and unfair and a big mistake for which somebody would pay one these days, or just make him burst into tears instead. He couldn't understand how this had all come about. One day he was perfectly content, playing at home, having three best friends, sliding down banisters, trying to stand on his tiptoes to see right across Berlin, and now he was stuck here in this cold, nasty house with three whispering maids and a waiter who was both unhappy and angry, where no one looked as if they could ever be cheerful again.

When Bruno befriends Shmuel, this is the point in the story, in my opinion, that the real internal conflict occurs. Shmuel and Bruno forge a friendship, although it is not heard of. Bruno defies everything that he has been taught and that is expected of him to become friends with a Jewish boy. When Bruno and Shmuel go "exploring" in the camp, everyone involved faces their biggest internal conflict ever. 

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Internal and external conflicts always exist in literature. The internal conflict usually revolves around the concept of Man versus himself meaning that there is inner confusion and often a difficult choice to be made. It may be an emotional or ethical choice which is driven by feelings and perceptions. External conflicts are recognizable as the struggle of Man versus Man, Man versus Nature, Man versus fate or Destiny, Man versus society and Man versus machine. In The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, Bruno experiences inner and external conflict as he struggles to accept his father's decisions although he knows that his father holds the ultimate position of authority in the household which Bruno cannot question. Bruno decides to defy his parents wishes and go exploring along the fence (inner conflict). He makes a conscious decision to challenge that authority by going exploring even though he knows what is expected of him. 

Bruno suffers another inner conflict when he denies Shmuel after Kotler catches Shmuel eating the cake which Bruno has given him. This has painful consequences for both boys and Bruno's promise that he will never let his friend down again is put to the test and resolves the conflict when he joins Shmuel on his side of the fence, only to meet his death in the gas chamber. 

External conflicts include the only time Bruno stands up to his father in chapter 5 and is told that "those people...well they're not people at all." This conflict will be resolved when Bruno meets Shmuel for the first time and discovers that the boys share a birthday so are apparently not so different after all. This conflict could be both Man versus Man and Man versus society as Bruno reveals the similarities and not the differences between the Jews and the Nazis.  

In the conflict of Man versus Destiny, Bruno's mother desperately wants to free herself from any part in the Nazi solution. Her inner conflict as she tries to be loyal and to justify her part is outweighed by her external conflict as she fights the inevitable. 

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