set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 18 Summary

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Shmuel does not show up at their usual meeting place for a few days, and Bruno is worried that he will have to leave Out-With without saying goodbye. Finally, on the third day, Shmuel is there again at the fence, but he looks “even more unhappy than usual.”

He tells Bruno that something bad has happened and his father is missing. According to Shmuel, his father had gone on Monday on “work duty with some other men”; inexplicably, none of them have returned. Bruno proposes that “there must be a simple explanation,” but he cannot think of what it might be. He offers to ask Father about the situation, secretly hoping that Shmuel will not take him up on his suggestion. To his relief, Shmuel says that this would not be a good idea because the soldiers hate the people on his side of the fence; as an afterthought, he adds that he hates them in return. Taken by surprise, Bruno asks if Shmuel hates Father too, and Shmuel does not answer. He has seen Bruno’s father, the Commandant,

on any number of occasions and [cannot] understand how such a man could have a son who [is] so friendly and kind.

After a long, uncomfortable silence, Bruno changes the subject, telling Shmuel that he is going back to Berlin. Shmuel asks Bruno how long he will be gone, and Bruno responds, “I think it’s forever.” Shmuel realizes sadly that he will never see Bruno again and laments that he will have no one to talk to anymore. Bruno wants to tell Shmuel that he will miss him too, but he is too embarrassed; instead, he suggests that someday perhaps his friend can “come on a holiday to Berlin.”

Bruno reflects that he and Shmuel have never had the chance to play together, and he wishes that they could do so “just once . . . just to remember.” When Bruno expresses the desire to see for himself what it is like on the other side of the fence despite his friend’s observation that he “wouldn’t like it,” Shmuel lifts the bottom of the fence a little and asks, “Why don’t you then?” Feeling his head “where his hair used to be but was now just stubble,” Bruno recalls that he looks just like Shmuel and suggests that if he had a pair of striped pajamas he “could come over on a visit and no one would be any the wiser.” Shmuel, who hopes that Bruno might be able to help him find his father, says that he can easily secure an extra pair of pajamas. The boys resolve to have one “final adventure” as “a good way to say goodbye.”

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