set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 9 Summary

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As time passes, Bruno’s memories of home start to fade and he begins to adjust to his life at Out-With. Things remain pretty much the same: Gretel is “less than friendly” to him as usual, and the soldiers go into and out of Father’s office for meetings every day. The servants continue with their jobs, and Lieutenant Kotler still acts as if he owns the place; when Father is not there, he spends his time flirting with Gretel or “whispering alone in rooms with Mother.”

One day, Father announces that it is time for the children to resume their education, and he hires Herr Liszt to tutor them. Herr Liszt is a dour man who is “particularly fond of history and geography.” Although Bruno prefers literature and the arts, his new teacher dismisses these subjects as unimportant. It appears that Herr Liszt’s primary objective is to educate the children about The Fatherland and “all the great wrongs that have been done” against them as proud citizens of the country. Bruno hopes he will finally learn the reasons behind what he sees as the greatest wrong done to him in his short life: being taken from his beloved home in Berlin and relocated to Out-With.

Herr Liszt’s preoccupation with history leads Bruno to remember things in his immediate past; for him, history is personal, and a larger concept of it is nebulous at best. He recalls how much he had liked to go exploring, and he decides that it would be fun to resume this pastime in his current environment. For months, he has observed from his window the people in their striped pajamas who live beyond the fence, but he has never really reflected upon “what it [is] all about” until now. He compares the people there, all dressed alike, to the men who come through his house at all hours, clothed in

uniforms of varying quality and decoration and caps and helmets with bright red-and-black arm-bands.

Bruno wonders what exactly is the difference between the two groups and who decides which people should wear the striped pajamas and which should wear the uniforms.

Although to Bruno’s knowledge, none of the people in the striped pajamas have ever been invited to the house, he has seen the soldiers with them on the other side of the fence. When this happens, it is clear that the soldiers are in charge because the “pajama people” all jump to attention in their presence and, on occasion, some will fall to the ground and, for some reason, have to be carried away. Bruno is mystified as to the nature of what is happening here at Out-With. He resolves, in the spirit of exploration, to find out more about the situation. He steps outside and first examines the plaque on the bench that sits beside the garden; he reads aloud, stumbling over the words: “Out-With Camp . . . June nineteen forty.” He then scans the tall fence, which stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions, and decides to follow it as far as it will go to the right. As he begins his journey, he tries not to remember that both Mother and Father have expressly banned exploration anywhere along the fence or near the camp—“With No Exceptions.”

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