set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Discussion Topic

Bruno's loss of innocence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Summary:

Bruno's loss of innocence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is depicted through his growing awareness of the harsh realities around him. Initially naive and unaware of the true nature of the concentration camp, he gradually comprehends the brutality and inhumanity of the Holocaust, culminating in his tragic end alongside his friend Shmuel.

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Did Bruno lose his innocence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno does not lose his innocence. As a young boy in a new isolated environment, he misses his friends with whom he played with back home. Bruno deeply yearns for friendship and is glad when he stumbles upon Shmuel, who he quickly makes a connection with. However, Bruno is too naïve to realize that Shmuel, just like the rest of the misery-stricken folk across the fence, are Jewish prisoners. Instead, he is saddened by their appearance and ponders why and how they live that way. In fact, Bruno is too innocent to realize that he has on several occasions shared a dinner table with Hitler, the man responsible for Shmuel’s misery, in his own home.

The two boys’ bond grows, and Bruno even sneaks food for malnourished Shmuel. After he learns that they would be returning to Berlin, he feels guilty about leaving Shmuel behind and offers to assist him to find his father. It is this innocent decision that leads to his death, alongside his friend in the gas chamber.

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Did Bruno lose his innocence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Interestingly enough, I don't see Bruno as having lost his innocence.  Normally, with stories associated with the Holocaust and the death intrinsic to it, the loss of innocence is something to be expected.  Bruno stands for the innocent values of friendship and honor throughout the work.  His commitment to Shmuel and living up to his promises are the reasons for his own death.  Even when he and Shmuel are being herded into the gas chambers, he does not lose sight of this.  In holding his friend's hand, reassuring him that everything will be fine, there is a clear innocence that Bruno possesses.  The world in which Nazism has negotiated people's values, caused them to abdicate responsibility towards others, and created a condition in which temporary notions of the good become accepted as permanent valus is a world that Bruno transcends.  His innocent belief about the goodness of people and about the nature of honor prevent him from succumbing to a world with which people like his sister have become enamored.  It is here where I think that one can see that Bruno does not lose his innocence in the novel.  Rather, he becomes a transcendent figure because of it.

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When does Bruno lose his innocence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In my mind, the moment that Bruno changes his clothes and hops the fence is when a point of innocence is lost.  I say this because it is at this point that Bruno has done a couple of things that represent a narrative of experience as opposed to innocence.  The first would be the disobedience of his father's instructions to not go to certain parts of the camp.  The edict of "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions" is completely discarded when Bruno crosses the fence.  While it is valid that he had already tested out this maxim by actually approaching the fence, the notion of crossing it, of violating the demarcation of what is accepted and forbidden, represents a moment of experience supplanting innocence.  Along these lines, the changing of clothes might be a symbolic moment where innocence becomes replaced with experience.  Bruno empathizes with Shmuel enough to be able to move his frame of reference into his.  In its purest of terms, this is no longer innocent, complete in one's own self- absorption.  Rather, it is an act of maturation and insight for Bruno to not only walk in another's shoes, but wear their clothes and absorb their experience.  There is probably a loss of innocence at the moment that Bruno recognizes something being wrong as he and Shmuel are herded into the gas chambers.  To probe into Bruno's mind at that moment would be a loss of innocence as he either realizes the dire consequences of what is to be or fully grasps the faith in his friendship as a way to ward off the horror of what is to be.

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