set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 6 Summary

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Out of boredom a few days later, Bruno is lying on his bed staring at the ceiling when he notices that the paint above his head is cracked and peeling. This observation only adds to his unhappiness with his new home. He decides petulantly that he “hate[s] it all . . . absolutely everything.” At this point, Maria the maid walks in carrying a stack of laundered clothes. Bruno attempts to strike up a conversation with her, asking her if she is as dissatisfied with their new living arrangements as he is.

Maria is very cautious in responding to Bruno’s question. She finally addresses his concern indirectly by telling him how much she had enjoyed the garden back in Berlin. When Bruno persists, she says that what she thinks is not important. Bruno retorts, “Of course it’s important . . . you’re part of the family, aren’t you?” Maria comments wryly, “I’m not sure whether your father would agree with that.”

Bruno, beside himself with frustration, asserts that Father has made “a terrible mistake” in bringing them here; he mutters under his breath, “Stupid Father!” Maria reacts strongly to his insolence, admonishing Bruno that he must never speak thus about his father, who is “a good man . . . [who] takes care of all of us.”

In a rare moment of candor, Maria reveals that her mother had worked for Bruno’s fraternal grandmother, who had been a great singer and entertainer. When his grandmother had retired, she had remained friendly with Maria’s mother and had given her a small pension. Times were hard, however, and when Maria’s mother had been taken ill, Bruno’s father had paid for her hospital expenses and given young Maria a position with the family out of the goodness of his heart. Because she knows that Bruno’s father can be a man of great kindness, she will not allow Bruno to speak disparagingly about him, although she wonders aloud how such a man can act as he is apparently doing now. Bruno is confused, but before Maria can explain herself further, Gretel barges in and rudely orders the maid to prepare a bath for her.

Maria has been with Bruno’s family since he was three years old. Although it seems to him that she has always been around,

washing the clothes, helping with the shopping and the cooking . . . taking him to school and collecting him again,

he has never until this moment considered her a person “with a life and history all of her own.” He reprimands his sister for speaking to Maria in such a demeaning manner, expecting her to do menial tasks for her that she can do for herself, but Gretel, who has never thought about things in this way, snaps, “She’s the maid . . . that’s what she’s here for.” Maria, meanwhile, shakes her head at Bruno in warning and politely tells Gretel that she will “be right with [her]” as soon as she finishes putting Bruno’s clothes away.

When Gretel leaves, Maria tells Bruno urgently that he must not express his angry and negative opinions about his father aloud. With an attitude of “frenzied worry,” she exhorts him to “stay quiet” and do whatever his father tells him to “until this is all over.” Inexplicably, Bruno feels the need to cry and notices that Maria is close to tears as well. Angry and confused, he runs down the stairs and out of the house.

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