set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 1 Summary

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Last Updated on December 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

When nine-year-old Bruno comes home from school one day, he is surprised to find the maid, Maria, packing up all his belongings. He tries to remember if he has done anything “particularly naughty” in the past few days that would warrant him being sent away as a punishment. He asks his mother, “a tall woman with long red hair that she bundle[s] into a sort of net behind her head,” what is going on. He is somewhat relieved to notice that her things are also being packed, by Lars the Butler.

Bruno’s mother goes into the large dining room, where the Fury, accompanied by a beautiful blond woman, had come to dinner the week before. Bruno notices that Mother’s eyes are “more red than usual” as she tells him that the whole family will be going on “a great adventure.”

Mother explains that the Fury has “big things in mind” for his father and is sending him to a place where there is “a very special job that needs doing.” Bruno has never been entirely sure what his father does; unlike his friends, whose fathers are ordinary workers like greengrocers or teachers or chefs, Bruno knows only that his father wears a “fantastic uniform” and that there are always other men in uniforms and women with typewriters visiting him in his office, which is “Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions.”

Bruno’s discomfiture is intensified when he learns that the place to which they will be going is quite far away. The family’s house in Berlin will be closed up for the present, and Bruno will not be able to return to his school. Bruno is particularly upset that he will have to say goodbye to Karl and Daniel and Martin, who are his “three best friends for life.” When he protests, his mother first tries to reason with him. She says that in light of all the recent changes in the city, it might be safer if they move away. When this argument fails to convince Bruno, she snaps at him, telling him curtly, “We don’t have a choice in this.”

Disconsolate, Bruno goes upstairs, wondering whether their new home will be as nice as the one in which they are living now. Bruno loves their house in Berlin, which has five stories and a fine banister for sliding down. The banister goes all the way from the very top floor, which has a window from which he can see clear across the city, to the ground floor, where he jumps off into the dining room. In between are the floors for the bedrooms (his parents’ and his and his sister’s rooms), and beneath the ground floor, there is a cellar, where Cook prepares the family’s food.

In Bruno's estimation, the best thing about the house, in addition to the banister, is that Grandfather and Grandmother live nearby, and he wonders if they are coming along to the new place too. From downstairs, Bruno hears the sound of his parents arguing, but the voices cease suddenly when his father speaks “louder than Mother” can and the door to his father’s office closes loudly. Sadly, Bruno goes to his room to help Maria pack his things.

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Chapter 2 Summary