The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas book cover
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Themes

The key themes of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas include innocence, friendship, and compassion.

  • Innocence: Bruno and Shmuel exhibit a childlike innocence. Bruno is largely ignorant of the horrors of the Holocaust, even when he becomes friends with a concentration camp inmate.
  • Friendship: The boys’ devotion to one another persists despite their different backgrounds and circumstances.
  • Compassion: The two boys exhibit kindness to each other even through the evils of the Nazi regime.

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Innocence is an important theme throughout the novel. Although Bruno and Shmuel share a certain childlike innocence, the reality is that Shmuel is a prisoner in Auschwitz and has certainly seen horrific sights. Bruno, on the other hand, is fiercely protected by his parents who do not want him to know about the horrors of the reality that is the Holocaust; in particular, they go to great lengths to keep the details of Bruno's father's job a secret from him. The juxtaposition of such innocence with the inherent evil of the Holocaust sets a poignant tone. This theme reinforces the idea that hatred and prejudice are learned behaviors.


Another significant theme in the novel is friendship. The desire for friendship is universal and at no time is it more important than during childhood. Bruno and Shmuel exist in two completely different worlds but share a mutual desire for companionship during a difficult and lonely time. In spite of their remarkably different circumstances, Bruno and Shmuel forge a meaningful friendship. As their friendship develops, it is tested on many occasions as the boys navigate their individual realities. When Shmuel is brought to Bruno's house to work as a servant, Bruno denies knowing him and giving him food; consequently, Shmuel is punished for stealing food (which Bruno had given him). Both boys know that they would be in terrible...

(The entire section is 393 words.)