Why did Bruno have a long conversation with Maria in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In chapter six of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Bruno is contemplating many things about living here in "Out-With" when Maria, the family's maid, enters his room to put away his laundry. Bruno is only nine, and he does not realize why his family is here, what exactly his father does, or what the unusual camp next door is all about. What he does know is that he is unhappy here, and he asks Maria if she is as unhappy here as he is.

It is a rather shocking question for Maria, both because of her status as a maid and her understanding that anyone who expresses too much dissatisfaction with anything in this place is likely to pay the price for it. She simply tells Bruno that she always did love their home in Berlin, which of course is an indirect way of saying that she wishes they still lived there. In any case, she is certain her opinion does not matter because she is only the maid. Bruno says,

“Of course it’s important...you’re part of the family, aren’t you?”

Maria comments wryly, “I’m not sure whether your father would agree with that.”

Bruno is still frustrated by his family's relocation from Berlin and is convinced his father has made a "terrible mistake” by bringing his family to this friendless and unfriendly place. When Maria hears Bruno say “Stupid Father!" she is aghast at the risk such a statement is in this household at this time. She scolds the boy, telling Bruno that his father is a good man who does his best to take care of them all. 

Maria goes on to tell Bruno things he did not know about his father. Maria's mother was his grandmother's seamstress for many years when she was in the theater; when Maria's mother got sick and did not have the money to pay for her care, Bruno's father paid all the bills and also gave Maria a job out of respect for his mother's friend and seamstress. Maria wonders how such a thoughtful and generous man could do the things he is now doing, but Bruno does not get to ask Maria anything more because his annoying sister, Gretel, walks in an interrupts their conversation.

As Maria leaves the room, she warns Bruno not to express his discontent and just do whatever he is told "until this is all over." She is obviously concerned about Bruno's safety if he continues to grumble about being here.

In short, the reason Bruno begins this conversation with Maria because he wants to know if anyone else dislikes living here as much as he does; what he learns, however, is that Maria is a person, not just a maid. Her comments about his father also give Bruno something more to think about regarding his father and their living here at "Out-With."