set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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The heroism of Bruno and Shmuel in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas"

Summary:

The heroism of Bruno and Shmuel in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is evident in their friendship and bravery. Bruno defies his family's expectations and risks his safety to befriend Shmuel, a Jewish boy in a concentration camp. Shmuel shows courage by trusting Bruno and maintaining their bond despite the dangers surrounding them.

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In "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", how do Bruno and Shmuel display heroism?

Throughout the novel, both Bruno and Shmuel exhibit heroic attributes through their selfless and courageous actions. Bruno risks getting into trouble when he takes food to give to Shmuel on his trips to visit his friend. Bruno has been told numerous times that he is not allowed to be near the fence, but he continues to venture outside in order to visit with Shmuel. Shmuel also displays courage by meeting with Bruno, who is on the other side of the fence. Shmuel risks being caught by the Nazi soldiers, who will more than likely physically punish him. Both boys enjoy being around one another and overlook the negative consequences of being caught visiting each other. Bruno also displays bravery and selflessness by helping Shmuel find his father. Bruno puts himself in harm's way by climbing underneath the fence and entering the concentration camp to help his friend. While the boys are searching for Shmuel's father, they are summoned by Nazi soldiers to march. Instead of running away, they continue to search for Shmuel's father. When they enter the gas chamber, both boys hold hands in order to comfort each other during the terrifying situation.

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In "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", how do Bruno and Shmuel display heroism?

In their willingness to go on an adventure, donning "armor," and in their spirit of sacrificing for one another, Bruno and Shmuel embody heroic qualities.

The hero must embrace adventure.  We tend to valorize people as heroes when they undertake something that most of us could not.  Bruno and Shmuel fit this pattern when they decide to take one “final adventure.”  Both boys are dismayed when they realize that Bruno will be leaving for Berlin.  In order to commemorate their friendship, they decide to take a  “great adventure." Bruno and Shmuel are heroes in the way they fearlessly embrace the spirit of adventure.

Heroes have to don "armor" as a part of their adventure. The hero has external clothing which represents the their quest.  In Bruno's and Shmuel's case, it would be the "striped pajamas," or the uniform that prisoners had to wear in Auschwitz.  Bruno sheds his "civilian" clothes as he crosses under the fence and wears "the striped pajamas."  At this moment, both boys are ready to go on their quest.  Even though, Bruno realizes that the clothes do  “not smell very nice,” he sees the clothes as a part of his adventure.  Like a hero, he remembers the words of his "sage" grandparents who told him that "You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be."  Bruno and Shmuel are heroic in how their clothing, their "armor," represents their quest.

Heroes inspire because they sacrifice so much for others. This heroic quality is seen in Bruno's and Shmuel's journey.  Bruno has second thoughts about his quest when he sees the people on the other side of the fence "looking horribly sad.”  While he wants to abandon his initial commitment, Bruno is heroic when he realizes that he would be forsaking Shmuel.  He does not want to let his friend down.  Bruno is heroic in the way he sees something more than himself at stake.  He continues his quest because of it. When Bruno and Shmuel are in the gas chamber, unaware of what will happen, Bruno reminds him that they will be "best friends for life."  Bruno and Schmuel die in the gas chamber, having undertaken an adventure and shown unwavering commitment to their friendship.  In this way, their heroism lies in how they sacrifice for something larger than themselves.

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How is Bruno a hero in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In The Boy in the Striped PajamasBruno is a hero in how he sacrifices himself for another person.

Boyne's "fable" makes Bruno a hero.  The way Bruno honors his word and displays selflessness is heroic. When Shmuel needs his help to find his father, Bruno is not only a good friend but also quite heroic when he says "I wouldn't let you down."  This heroism is underscored when Bruno realizes that life on the other side of the fence is nowhere near what he thought it to be.   He is open about his desire to return home.  However, when Shmuel reminds Bruno of his promise to help find his father, Bruno's heroism is evident: "Bruno thought about it.  He had promised his friend that and he wasn't the sort to go back on a promise, especially when it was the last time they were going to see each other."  While his confidence is lessened because of what he sees, Bruno does not back down from honoring something more than his own needs.

Bruno's heroism continues when the boys are ordered to march into the gas chamber.  There is pure terror in the moment before "the door at the front was suddenly closed and a loud metallic sound rang."   However, Bruno "did something quite out of character" in holding Shmuel's "tiny hand" and saying that he is his best friend for life. Like a hero, Bruno rises above the pandemonium and sadness around him.  His heroism compels him to remind his friend they are going to experience this together.  Boyne concludes the chapter by showing that despite the chaos in the gas chamber, "Bruno was still holding Shmuel's hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go."  Bruno does not leave his friend in a time of need. He sacrifices his own comfort and overcomes his own fears to reassure Shmuel of their friendship.  These actions make Bruno a hero.  His innocence is a reminder that heroes do not have to be extraordinary.  The ability to care and to live by one's word is heroism.

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How does Bruno find humanity in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

I had to pare down the original question.  Yet, I have to say that you should strongly consider submitting the parts removed because they make for some real interesting discussion about Boyne's work.  I think that Bruno finds humanity in the novel through being distinct from the world around him.  One of the most compelling elements about Boyne's characterization of Bruno is that he does not take the form of the world around him.  Bruno represents a force of dissent in a world of conformity.  He is a force that constantly questions why reality is constructed in the manner it is until the ending when he takes steps to make reality as it should be.  Bruno is not the leader of a resistance movement against the Naizs and he is not a political force seeking to destabilize Hitler.  He is a human being, a little boy who simply views human beings as ends in their own right as opposed to a means to an end.  It is here where Bruno finds humanity and does so for the other characters in the novel and even does so for the reader.  Bruno's actions represent this in the smallest and largest ways.  He stands up for the cleaning lady when Gretel rudely treats her.  He questions the move to Auschwitz, even though everyone else is in support of it.  He won't even pronounce the name right, to signify his own resistance of it.  He is open to Pavel's humanity, and closed to Kotler's smarmy ways.  He rejects Gretel's phoniness and even his mother's weakness in action through his own voice.  He notices the disconnect between his world and "the other," as evidenced in his constant musings about trains, fences, and "the other side."  His befriending of Shmuel represents this and standing up for a promise he made is demonstrative of his humanity, holding the hand of another in the gas chamber.  Bruno finds humanity in a setting where it was long gone.  Bruno's nobility as a little boy in a setting where childhood was robbed for so many reminds the reader and the characters in the novel that action can be taken and while it might not be the type of action that changes the world, it changes aspects of smaller worlds.  In doing so, Bruno discovers for others the humanity in needed in order to move change from smaller to larger worlds.

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