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

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

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Sarah Miles eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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Pauline Sheehan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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preetimassie | Student

one conflict is that bruno is not telling his family about his friend shmuel. you may say this conflict is person vs. society because he knows that jews and germans can't be friends


mkcapen1 | Student

In the book "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" he mother experiences internal conflict as she watches the Jewish men from the concentration camp work on the property.  She knows that they are being mistreated and yet her husband experiences pride and success in his role as the commander at the location.  This is an example of internal conflict.

Another issue of internal conflict arises in he relationship between the husband his mother.  His mother is ashamed of his position.  His father knows his son is a soldier and is supportive of him.

The major external of conflicts occurs when the son goes into the camp with his friend.  He is taken to the chamber along with the others and dies.  His  father has to contend that his own involvement in the process has led to his son's death.