set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne
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What was the conflict in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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While there are a number of conflicts one could discuss in terms of this novel, the most significant one as far as I am concerned is the difficulty of the friendship that blossoms between Bruno and Shmuel. Their friendship occurs quite naturally due to their proximity, and because both boys...

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While there are a number of conflicts one could discuss in terms of this novel, the most significant one as far as I am concerned is the difficulty of the friendship that blossoms between Bruno and Shmuel. Their friendship occurs quite naturally due to their proximity, and because both boys are lonely in similar yet different ways; but is fraught with difficulty because of Shmuel's status as a prisoner, and Bruno's status as the son of a Nazi officer. As Bruno slowly begins to realize there are things about their friendship that give him more freedom and autonomy than his friend, he still wants to remain on an equal footing with Shmuel, possibility out of pity, but more likely a kind of kinship and empathy.

Bruno does not yet understand all of the implications of the situation, and so his pity towards Shmuel does not encompass his persecution as a Jew, but merely that of a boy who is imprisoned against his will (which is serious in its own right of course). The empathy between the two boys leads to the novel's horrific climax, in which both boys decide to switch clothing (in a possible homage to Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper") and take showers together; readers understand this means they will go to their deaths.

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The conflict in the book, The Boy with the Striped Pajamas, is that the boy's father, the Nazi officer, has placed his family in a position that caused his actions to ruin his entire family and actually gets his own son killed, along with the prisoners of war that he was in charge of.

The irony of this is inescapable. The father was punished severely for his actions towards the prisoners of war, in that his own child ended up getting executed.

His child had done nothing to deserve being executed, just as the prisoners and their children in the death camp had done nothing to deserve being executed.

The father, and the entire rest of the family, had to suffer the loss of their precious child because of the father's actions.

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