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

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What are the key themes in "The Boy with the Striped Pajamas?" Why are these themes important to the novel as a whole?

Expert Answers info

ladyvols1 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write1,485 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

In the novel, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” by John Boyne, there are a couple of major themes that run throughout the story.  Bruno, a lonely little boy is the protagonist in this story.  He has an older sister named Gretel, a nanny and house keeper named Maria, a mother and a father.  Bruno’s father is a Commandant of a Jewish concentration camp.   The major theme is the desire for friendship.  Boyne explores the theme of friendship by having Bruno wander to the fence of the camp, and he meets another boy his age.  The problem is that this little boy, Shmuel, is a prisoner.   He is a Polish Jew who is interned at Auschwitz along with his family.   The boys become friends from opposite sides of the fence and the war.  The desire in these two boys for a friendship is so strong that they ignore the fence between them.  They become very dependent upon one another.  This friendship will eventually lead to tragedy.

When Bruno’s father asks him about how he knows about the people in the stripped clothes, Bruno tells him that he has seen them from his window.  Bruno's father forbids Bruno to go near the fence, and tells him to play near the house. Bruno doesn’t understand his father’s hatred of these people.  We also meet a violent and hateful soldier who comes on to Bruno’s older sister.  However, we see his violent hatred of Jews when he beats a prisoner who works in the house.  He also threatens and intimidates Bruno.  The actions of the Nazi soldiers and Bruno’s father demonstrate the theme of prejudice that runs throughout the novel.

"'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' explores the beauty of a child's innocence in a time of war, the common desire we all have for friendship, and the fences—both literal and figurative—that we must all navigate and choose whether or not to break down."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

dkgarran eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write59 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

The main themes of the novel include (but are certainly not limited to):

1. The innocence of childhood. Bruno and Shmuel share a great deal in common but perhaps what is most striking is the childhood innocence which characterizes both boys. Bruno is unaware that his father is a Nazi commandant and that his home is on ther periphery of Auschwitz. Shmuel, imprisoned in the camp, seems not to understand the severity of his situation. When his father goes missing, Shmuel does not understand that he has gone to the gas chamber.

2. Boundaries. The story also explores the boundaries -- both literal and figurative -- that we live with. Shmuel and Bruno are separated by a fence and lament that they can never play or explore together. They are also separated by the strict rules inherent in Nazi Germany which forbid Germans to be friends with Jews, Poles, and the other groups persecuted by Hitler.

There are certainly more themes but these are some good ones to explore.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mun | Student

One of the most important themes is breaking barriers 

this is portrayed in the book mentally and physical but the first thing we need to find out is how do we create barriers 

we create barriers by judging someone on age race religion social status sex and caste but there are ways in which we can break barrirs

the most important way being interaction we need to get to know a person bond and not just judge at first sight 

don't judge a book by its cover 

another way we can break barriers is by accepting differnces 

prachidesai8991 | Student

The Boy in the Striped Pyjama's explores many different themes all throughout. They are all themes which play a small part in understanding the big theme of integration of all, despite differences on colour, personalities, and mainly race. I believe that if  closely examined, yes there are many themes, but the overall message highlighted would be integration. Through a child's innocence and desire for friendship, not only does John Boyne show that an innocence of a child is so pure. Through this, what is actually wanting to be said is that we should accept everyone for who they are. We shouldn't discriminate others for being different to us, but, instead, like children, forget the differences and befriend each other, in any case. We are all different, we are all unique, and solour and race shouldn't determine who we accept and befriend. Because, if we look deep down and away from the difference of colour, we'll all see one thing very common in each and every one of us, and that is that we are all humans. I humans are differentiated between colour and race, then we're definately not human at all.  

samueltan95 | Student

Innocence of childhood







sexyandiknowit98 | Student
  • The "us"(germans) and "them"(jews) dichotonomy. The book explores the prejudice and discrimination of the Nazi Germans towards the jews.
  • The guilty observer and the innocence of childhood. The guilty observer is every grown up in the story who has the ability to think but still lacks emotions for the jews. Namely, it was Bruno's father and the Fury himself. While, it also shows the innocence of Shmuel and Bruno how they dont even know the difference between them.
  • Bullies and Scapegoating. According to the background, it was Hitler who scapegoated (blamed) jews for the bad condition of Germany and persuaded people through his excellent oratorical skills.  The Bullies were the Nazi Soldiers who mistreated all the poor jews in the concentration camps.
  • Point of View and Perspective. The book is based on the point of view of the germans of how they thought themselves as superior. At a point in the book, bruno says "we are superior". This is the assumption and perspective of the Germans about themselves and how  they find the jews inferior.
  • Prejudice, racism and segregation
  • Boundaries and fences
  • fear and lies
  • regret (as Bruno's father feels in the end)

These were some themes my literature teacher gave me. Hope these helped. :)  

cerengungor | Student







poupe010 | Student
  • Friendship
  • Innocence
  • Boundaries
  • Ignorance
  • Fear