set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 3 Summary

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Bruno’s sister, Gretel, at age twelve, is three years older than him. He is “a little scared of her”; from as far back as he can remember, she has made it clear that she is in charge. Gretel has always been a challenge to her other family members—Bruno thinks of her as The Hopeless Case, and he has heard his parents refer to her as “Trouble From Day One.”

Gretel is a constant source of irritation for Bruno. She hogs the bathroom regularly, oblivious to his need to use it too, and she has a large collection of dolls arranged on shelves in her room that seem to stare at Bruno, watching whatever he does. Gretel also has “some very unpleasant friends” who make fun of Bruno, tormenting him about his small stature. This is “a particular sore point” for him, because he knows he is small for his age, and Bruno reflects that perhaps one good thing about having to stay in the new house for a while is that, by the time he returns to Berlin, he will hopefully have grown to be as tall as the other boys in his class.

Bruno runs into Gretel’s room. After being predictably reprimanded for entering without knocking, he expresses to her his unhappiness with their new living arrangements. For once, Gretel agrees with him, telling him that Father has said that they will be staying there for “the foreseeable future.” When Bruno asks her how long, exactly, that will be, Gretel sagely informs him that they might be there for as long as three weeks, which seems to both children to be an eternity. Gretel also tells Bruno that the name of their new home is Out-With and explains that whoever held Father’s position before him had not done a very good job and had been forced to leave precipitously. Bruno concludes that his family is “here at Out-With because someone said out with the people before [them].”

The greatest source of frustration for Bruno at Out-With is that there is no one for him to play with. He complains to Gretel about how much he misses Karl and Daniel and Martin, his three best friends, and adds that the children in this new place do not look very friendly. Gretel is momentarily confused because she had not been aware there were other children living there. Bruno takes her into his room and invites her to look out his window with him. Something about the way Bruno is acting makes Gretel feel nervous, as if she might not want to see the children after all, but her curiosity overcomes her. With her “golden pigtails perfectly balanced on each shoulder” and clutching one of her classic dolls, Gretel goes to look out the window. As the sun disappears behind a cloud, she sees “exactly what Bruno had been talking about.”

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