set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Compare Bruno's old and new homes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

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In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno's new home is smaller and less attractive than his old home, with no other boys nearby. Bruno's view from his Berlin bedroom window is of the city. At Auschwitz, he overlooks the bleak camp below. It is desolate outside of the Auschwitz house. The dynamics also change; a Jewish prisoner works in the Auschwitz kitchen, and Lieutenant Kotler is a frequent presence, making things tense.

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When Bruno and his family arrive at their new house, Bruno immediately considers it to be the polar opposite of their old home in a variety of ways. While the old house had been in proximity to various neighbors, the new house is isolated, with no other houses around and, to Bruno’s dismay, no playmates. Whereas the old house was close to the hustle and bustle of shops and fruit and vegetable stalls, the new house is surrounded by emptiness. Bruno feels as though he has arrived in “the middle of nowhere.”

While the old house had been massive, with five floors and a “little room at the top” from which Bruno could see views “right across Berlin,” the new house is significantly smaller, with only three floors. In the old house, his parents’ bedroom had been on a different floor to his, but in the new house, all three bedrooms are on the same level.

At the old house, Maria had been the family’s only maid. At the new house, there is a significantly larger staff contingent.

At the old house, Bruno had lived a happy life, surrounded by laughter. The new house gives Bruno the impression that nobody is happy here and that “there was nothing to laugh at.”

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One big difference of Bruno's old home in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas compared to his new home at Auschwitz has little to do with the actual home itself or its setting and more to do with the elevated rank that Bruno’s father holds at the new home, where he is commandant of the death camp.

Because of his role as head of the camp, the domestic staff in the home expands. Back in Berlin, Bruno was accustomed to having people around him at home whom he has known for years, like Maria. At Auschwitz, there are other staff members, and the dynamics of the household changes. For instance, Pavel, a Jewish prisoner, works in the kitchen, and Bruno wonders about how Pavel, who claims to have been a doctor earlier in his life, could be reduced to a servile position and also could be treated as badly as he is. In addition to the extended staff, there is also less privacy at the new home because Bruno’s father’s military staff, particularly Lieutenant Kotler, is often in the house.

The Berlin house itself is described as “a very beautiful house” with five floors, including the basement, plus another “little room at the top of the house” with a lovely vista. In fact, “Bruno could see right across Berlin if he stood up on his tiptoes.” By comparison, at Auschwitz, the window in his room affords him only a view of the dismal and gray scene over the fence dividing his home from the camp and its prisoners.

Moreover, the house in Auschwitz “seemed to be the exact opposite” of the old home. Unlike the Berlin house, which was situated on a quiet street aligned with similar homes with other boys Bruno’s age playing outside, the new house “stood all on its own in an empty, desolate place.” It “just felt empty and cold, as if he was in the loneliest place in the world.” The Berlin house was “enormous,” but the Auschwitz house “had only three floors.”

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In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the reader is introduced to this "empty, desolate place" to which the family has relocated and which does not appeal to Bruno at all. It is a sinister place foreshadowing the tragic events that will follow. Bruno loves to explore the house in Berlin with all its "nooks and crannies" but this house, in "Out-With," is much smaller with only three storeys, one bathroom, an average ground floor and a basement for the servants. It seems more like "the loneliest place in the world."

There is an office in the new house but Bruno never even finished exploring his father's office in their house in Berlin because it was always "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." This new office will no doubt have the same restrictions which means that Bruno's play area is much- diminished. Bruno loves the banister in the old house as he can slide all the way from the top (fifth) floor to the bottom and the view out of the window at the top - if he stands on his toes - is very different from the view from his window in the new house. 

Bruno cannot believe that this place is their new home and he thinks that "this was a bad idea." The house in Berlin is on a quiet street, in a neighborhood with similar houses and similar people to his own family, plenty of children with whom to be friends or to clearly stay away from and a familiar atmosphere. The new house has neither houses nor, consequently, friends nor "trouble." The house is "in the middle of nowhere." Bruno will also be far away from his grandparents at the new house as they live close to the old one.

In the new house, Bruno does nor feel at home, or safe and "no one looked as if they could ever be cheerful again." 

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