The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas book cover
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Chapter 4 Summary

Directly below Bruno’s window is a small, well-tended garden with pavement surrounding it and a wooden bench highlighted by a plaque. Further out, however, the scenery changes drastically, and it is this sight that so astonishes Gretel when she looks out of the window.

About twenty feet past the garden and the bench is a huge fence topped with bales of barbed wire extending as far as the eye can see. The ground beyond the fence is barren, and there are dozens of low huts and large, square buildings with smoke stacks. What surprises Gretel the most about the scene, however, are the people who are apparently living within the enclosed area. They are all male: “small boys and big boys, fathers and grandfathers...they [are] everyone.”

Gretel wonders who the people are and why there are no women among them. She also does not understand what sort of place this is; it is so desolate and “nasty-looking.” Thinking carefully about what she is seeing, Gretel proposes that this must be the countryside, which she has learned about in geography class; in the countryside, there are “huge areas like this where people live and work,” growing food to send to the inhabitants of big cities like Berlin. Bruno, however, who has learned a little about the countryside in school as well, argues that this cannot be the case because there are no animals here and the barren soil does not look like it could sustain any crops. In the end, Gretel concedes that perhaps this is not the countryside after all.

Both children continue to muse about the situation outside Bruno’s window, trying to make sense of what is happening “not fifty feet away from their new home.” There are people everywhere in the area behind the fence; some are standing perfectly still before a soldier, desperately trying to keep their heads up, while others are pushing wheelbarrows from one side of the camp to the other. Many of the people are on crutches or have bandages around their heads. Overall, the atmosphere is sinister and full of dread....

(The entire section is 537 words.)