What themes are explored in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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The two major themes of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are friendship and innocence. Bruno and Shmuel share such a desire for camaraderie that they form one from literally two different sides of a fence. Owing partly to Bruno's naivete, the two are able to become fast friends, even...

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The two major themes of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are friendship and innocence. Bruno and Shmuel share such a desire for camaraderie that they form one from literally two different sides of a fence. Owing partly to Bruno's naivete, the two are able to become fast friends, even if the friendship is doomed to end in tragedy.

The theme of innocence is very evident in the protagonist, Bruno. Due to the neglect and purposeful obfuscation of information on the part of his parents, Bruno has no idea of the true nature of Auschwitz, and even refers to prison clothes as "striped pajamas." Shmuel has obviously lost his illusion of childlike innocence and finds an incredible comfort when he sees it in Bruno. The book assigns a dark significance to the folly of this innocence, as it eventually causes Bruno's death.

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In this story of innocence and misunderstanding, Bruno loses his life alongside his friend Shmuel in part because his parents tried to protect him from the awful truth.

The theme of parental love underlies the story because Bruno's parents do not want him to know where they are or why. They try to shield him from the knowledge that they are in a death camp and that his father is responsible for killing the Jewish prisoners.

The importance of friendship as another, equally crucial kind of affection is also present throughout the story. Happy to have a friend, Bruno wants to help Shmuel, and it costs him his life.

In the latter regard, along with the limited information the parents provide, the theme of misunderstanding is expressed through Bruno's relationship with Shmuel. Bruno thinks of camp as a rural idyll, and is confused when he visits and sees entirely unanticipated sights. Bruno doesn't understand the words he hears, like Auschwitz.

The theme of innocence lost also flows through the story. Shmuel lost his innocence and grew up too fast when his family was imprisoned. Bruno loses bits of his innocence as he struggles to comprehend the environment of the camp, but his chance to grow is destroyed with his death.

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I feel that one of the themes is that racism and hatred can ultimately destroy the person who is guilty of it. Bruno's father is happy to kill children of Jewish families and it is the ultimate irony that he indirectly kills his own son. It is also clear that it is adults that are the ones who are guilty of racism as children play happily with each other and do not see race/colour etc.

The role of women is explored too as Bruno's mother is not really at ease living near a concentration camp but does not speak out; speaking out may have saved her child's life.

The Nazis' hatred of other people and their casual mistreatment of them is characterised in the form of Pavel who helps around the house although he is really a doctor.     

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