The Boy in The Striped Pajamas is a stark reminder how circumstances affect innocent victims, often with tragic consequences. It also highlights the differences, but moreover the similarities, between the boys,Bruno and Shmuel. Despite being, literally, on opposite sides of the "fence," and having a completely different concept of real fear, ironically, they are affected by the same things even sharing a birthday. The striking differerence in their circumstances will ultimately mean nothing as they meet the same fate.
The reader has the benefit of hindsight due to the historical aspect of this novel and recognizes the tension in Bruno's home right from the beginning. The reader is made to understand the importance of Bruno's father as one of "The Fury's" commanders. The atmosphere in the house may not manifest itself as fear straight away but the mere mention of "The Fury" and all he represents hints that something or someone is to be feared. Bruno's mother, loyal to her husband but dismissive of the obvious control over their lives, subtely makes her feelings known as "Some people make all the decisions for us." She is aware of the power surrounding her and her fear of the future is revealed: "We should never have let the Fury come to dinner...some people and their determination to get ahead!"
Bruno is an obedient, trusting child questioning the motives of others, looking for answers. When Maria tells him that he must not say what he feels, it "unsettled him." Maria is very clearly afraid, always anxious and tries to maintain a low profile. She distinguishes between the past and what has become "normal." When discussing Pavel's past, it is as if they existed “in another life.”
Lietenant Kolter will be the ultimate representation of evil and Shmuel is badly affected by even the mention of his name. Kolter will spark fear in Bruno but Bruno's innocence prevents any understanding and makes him powerless. Bruno decides "to keep his mouth shut and cause no chaos at all" after he witnesses Kotler's actions.
By the end of the novel, Bruno will face his fear even though he is shocked by what he sees. He promised Shmuel to help him look for his father so he stays. He becomes aware of Shmuel's absolute terror when they are ushered into a room and reminds him that they are best friends "for life," a life that is almost over.