set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What is the cliffhanger in chapter 2 of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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Bruno has just moved with his family to Auschwitz. He is homesick and unhappy and wishes he could crawl into his big container of underwear, or, if not that, look out his window and see his former home. He does look out the window, and he does see something, but we as readers don't know what. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger: Bruno's mouth opens and he is startled by what is in front of him, but what is it? The chapter ends with the line

something made him feel very cold and unsafe.

We have to move on to chapter 3 to learn what made Bruno feel insecure.

Cliffhangers keep us turning the pages in a book because we are in suspense and want to learn what will happen next. Filmmakers use the same device: showing us a startled or shocked face like Bruno's but not revealing at first what caused the shock. This raises our sense of anticipation.

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A cliffhanger in literature is a point in the story when the reader experiences suspense and will, most likely, desire to continue reading.  The cliffhanger you refer to in Chapter 2 of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas involves what Bruno sees outside of his window at the very end of the chapter.  

His eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O, his hands stayed by his sides because something made him feel very cold and unsafe.

The reader is most definitely left in suspense because we are not told exactly what Bruno sees.  We are only told of Bruno's reaction.  Bruno opens his mouth in the typical childlike gesture of surprise.  As a continuation of the reaction, Bruno reveals that he does not feel safe.  We have to wait until Chapter 3 to find out the truth.  In fact, what Bruno sees is not even revealed until far into Chapter 3.  What has Bruno seen?  Bruno has seen Auschwitz, the concentration camp.  Bruno has seen the fence with the prisoners behind it.  Bruno has seen the people wearing "the striped pajamas."

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