set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 5 Summary

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Last Updated on December 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577

Bruno reflects upon his final morning in Berlin. The house had looked empty, “not like their real home at all.” Father had already left the city a few days earlier, and Bruno remembers that his mother had been very nervous. With tears in her eyes, she had said abstractedly:

We should never have let the Fury come to dinner . . . some people and their determination to get ahead!

An official car with flags on the front had taken the family to the train station, where two trains had been waiting on opposite tracks; oddly, both trains were headed in the same direction. Hordes of people surrounded by soldiers were gathered by one of the trains, but the one Bruno and his family boarded, a very comfortable train, had been almost empty. Bruno, who had only been able to catch a glimpse of the crowd waiting to get on the other train, had thought it curious that some of those people had not been directed to the empty seats still available on the train he was riding.

Bruno has not had the opportunity to speak to his father since coming to Out-With. Father, who looks “very smart in his freshly pressed uniform” and his carefully lacquered hair, is present at the new house but always seems to be surrounded by soldiers fighting for his attention. Thoroughly disturbed by the sight outside his window, Bruno feels an urgent need to talk to his father, so, gathering his courage, he goes to his office and taps tentatively on the door.

Father happens to be alone at the moment in the impressively furnished room. He invites Bruno to enter and seems delighted to see his son. He asks Bruno what he thinks about their new home, and Bruno truthfully replies that he is very unhappy with it and believes that they should all go home. Father tells Bruno that Out-With is their new home nonetheless and that he needs to give it a chance. When Bruno persists with his complaints and even breaks into tears at the thought of having to stay at this awful place, Father remains firm, suggesting that his son needs to accept the situation and trust that his elders know what is best for the family.

Desperate, Bruno asks what his father has done wrong to have made the Fury send him and his family to Out-With, and Father reacts by laughing and telling him that he does not understand the significance of his new position. When Bruno continues to protest, Father quietly but unyieldingly tells him to go to his room. Bruno continues to argue and receives permission to ask one more question. Bruno inquires about the identity of the people in the striped pajamas he can see from his window, and his father responds,

They’re not people at all . . . at least not as we understand the term. . . . You have nothing whatsoever in common with them.

Although he is unsatisfied with the answer, Bruno has no choice but to obey his father now and end the exchange. As he rises and goes to the door, his father calls him back, clearly waiting for something. Dutifully, Bruno stands at attention as he has been taught, clicking his heels together while raising his right hand in the air and shouting out, “Heil Hitler.” Bruno does not know the exact meaning of the salute but presumes that it is just another way of saying, “Goodbye . . . have a pleasant afternoon.”

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