What is the message of the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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amartiniuc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story of two boys who cross barriers in friendship. The fence in the story represents the divide between people that is too often formed. Ultimately, the message of the story is that beneath it all, we are all the same. Regardless of our color, religious preferences, sexual preferences, or gender, we are all the same and should be judged the same. 

In the book, the author makes the reader aware of the fences, or divides, that exist in our world by telling us the story of Auschwitz and how the Jews were treated.  These "fences” often contribute to hatred, violence, and even killings.  By telling the story of Bruno and Shumel’s friendship, the author encourages its readers to see others through the eyes of a child, because children are innocent and unaware of racism, sexism, and other biases that separate people from one another.

The author made Bruno and Shmuel very similar—they are both nine years old, and are both brought to a place against their will. Yet they are so different because Shumel is a Jew who is treated inhumanely by the Germans, and Bruno lives a life of luxury. Yet, throughout their friendship, neither of them feels that they are different from one another. When Bruno puts on the striped pajamas, Shmuel recognizes that “If it wasn’t for the fact that Bruno was nowhere near as skinny as the boys on his side of the fence, and not quite so pale either, it would have been difficult to tell them apart. It was almost (Shmuel thought) as if they were all exactly the same really." This is the pivotal moment in which Shmuel and the readers realize that we are all the same.

The only thing that makes us different is what’s on the outside. Bruno recognizes what his grandmother had once told him: “You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be, she always told me. I suppose that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? Pretending to be a person from the other side of the fence." In wearing the striped pajamas, Bruno has shown his father that his child and the children behind the fence are no different from one another. Bruno has shown us that despite our ability to compare ourselves to others, we are no different from one another.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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