set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 8 Summary

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Last Updated on December 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562

Bruno misses his paternal grandparents terribly. Grandfather, who is retired from his job running a restaurant, is seventy-three years old and, in Bruno’s estimation, is “just about the oldest man in the world.” Grandmother, in contrast, is sixty-two; to Bruno, she “never seem[s] old.” Grandmother has long, red hair and green eyes because of Irish blood somewhere in her family. She loves to have parties and is an accomplished singer; one of her favorite pieces to perform is La Vie en Rose.

Grandmother has secret hopes that Bruno and Gretel will someday appear on stage too, and at every Christmas and birthday party, she arranges for them to put on a simple play with her for Mother, Father, and Grandfather. In these plays, Grandmother always sings, Bruno does a magic trick or two, Gretel dances, and at the end, Bruno recites a long poem by one of the Great Poets. Although Bruno does not understand many of the words in these poems, the works “somehow [start] to sound more and more beautiful the more he read[s] them.”

Sadly, the last play Bruno and Gretel performed with Grandmother had ended in disaster. It was Christmas, in the weeks after the Fury and the beautiful blond woman had come to dinner and Father had been promoted to Commandant. Father had worn his new uniform, which had a great number of decorations on it. Everyone had applauded when he appeared, and Grandfather in particular had been pleased beyond measure. But Grandmother had seemed singularly unimpressed. After she and the children had completed their traditional performance, she had given voice to her dismay, saying:

Is this where I went wrong with you, Ralf? I wonder if all the performances I made you give as a boy led you to this . . . dressing up like a puppet on a string . . . standing there in your uniform . . . as if it makes you something special. Not even caring . . . what it stands for.

Grandfather had tried to silence Grandmother, telling her that they had “discussed this in advance.” He declared that it made him deeply proud to see his son helping his country “reclaim her pride” and, in doing so, being elevated to “such a responsible position.” Mother had also tried to intervene, pointing out how handsome Father looked in his new uniform, but her suggestion had only served to agitate Grandmother further. Bruno and Gretel had been sent up to their rooms at this point, and as they left, they heard Grandmother arguing heatedly:

That’s all you soldiers are interested in . . . looking handsome in your fine uniforms . . . dressing up and doing the terrible, terrible things you do.

The children had tried to listen in on the adults from the top of the stairs, but their voices were muffled. Soon, Grandfather and Grandmother had left, with Grandmother calling out that she was “ashamed” and Father countering that he was “a patriot.”

Bruno, who had not had a chance to say goodbye before the family had moved to Out-With, misses his grandmother acutely and decides to write her a letter about how unhappy he is. In his letter, Bruno describes the house and the garden and the tall fence beyond which lie the huts, small buildings, smokestacks, and soldiers. He talks about the people who live on the other side of the fence—the people in the striped pajamas.

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