set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

Start Free Trial

Chapter 4 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on December 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

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 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 smokestacks. What surprises Gretel the most about the scene, however, are the people who are apparently living in 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. Bruno and Gretel are particularly intrigued when a group of children being harassed by a group of soldiers emerges from a hut. The soldiers rudely force the children into a single line, then laugh at them, and Gretel suggests that perhaps what they are witnessing is “some sort of rehearsal,” ignoring the fact that several of the children appear to be crying.

Gretel concludes that the children on the other side of the fence are “not the type . . . [she] wants to play with” because they look like “they’ve never had a bath in their lives.” Bruno thinks that perhaps there is a reason the children do not bathe, but Gretel only shivers and goes back to play with her dolls in her room, where “the view is decidedly nicer.”

Bruno continues to observe the people beyond the fence outside his window, trying hard to understand what is going on. As he watches the poor souls go about their business, he notices that they are all wearing the same kind of clothes: “a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapter 3 Summary


Chapter 5 Summary