The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary
by John Boyne

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

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a novel about Bruno, the young son of a Nazi officer, who befriends a Jewish boy named Shmuel during World War II.

  • Bruno’s family moves to a house in the countryside near Auschwitz, where Bruno’s father works. 
  • Through a fence, Bruno encounters a Jewish boy named Shmuel who is imprisoned in the concentration camp. The two boys become friends.
  • One day, Shmuel asks for Bruno’s help in finding his father. Bruno disguises himself as one of the prisoners and enters the camp.
  • The two boys are killed in the gas chambers.

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Introduction

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional tale of the unlikeliest of friends: the son of a Nazi commandant and a Jewish concentration camp inmate. Written by John Boyne and published in 2006 by David Fickling Books, the story was made into a major motion picture in 2008.

The novel, set in Nazi Germany, begins when nine-year-old Bruno and his family must move from their lovely home in Berlin to a new house in an unfamiliar place called "Out-With." Tempted to explore his new environment, Bruno is told that there are certain places that are "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." Unable to fight his adventuresome spirit, however, Bruno ventures forth into the unknown one afternoon.

Bruno comes upon a fence that he follows until he sees a young boy sitting on the other side of the fence. The shoeless boy is wearing striped pajamas and a cloth cap. Bruno also notices that the boy is wearing an armband with a star on it. Bruno makes fast friends with the boy, Shmuel, and they quickly discover that they share the same birthday. The boys discuss their families and where they are from. At the end of their first meeting, Bruno asks Shmuel why there are so many people on his side of the fence and what they are doing there. A few days later, Bruno's father has dinner guests; the man's name is "the Fury" and his date is called Eva. Bruno instantly dislikes the couple. Bruno's sister Gretel, whom he refers to as "the Hopeless Case," is smitten by the man and tries hard to impress him and his lady friend. Bruno, however, is disgusted by his sister's behavior and her budding romance with a young soldier.

Much like Bruno hears "Auschwitz" as "Out-With," he also incorrectly hears "the Führer" as "the Fury." Boyne masterfully tells the story from Bruno's perspective; it is clear that the innocence of Bruno's childhood remains intact despite the fact that he is living on the periphery of a death camp and has met Adolf Hitler.

Bruno continues to explore the woods near his house and often finds himself at the fence spending time with Shmuel. Bruno brings him food, and the friends lament the fact that they cannot explore together or play a game of football. Shmuel confides in Bruno that he is unable to find his father and he is worried. Bruno vows to help Shmuel look for his father; to that end, Shmuel promises to get Bruno some pajamas so that he will blend in on his side of the fence.

One fateful day, Bruno sheds his clothes, dons the pajamas, and sneaks onto Shmuel's side of the fence. As the boys search for Shmuel's father, the soldiers herd the prisoners, Bruno among them, into the gas chambers where they meet their untimely death hand in hand.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas explores the beauty of a child's innocence in a time of war, the common desire we all have for friendship, and the fences—both literal and figurative—that we must all navigate and choose whether or not to break down.

Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about childhood innocence, friendship, and the importance of breaking down the fences we put up around ourselves.

The novel is told from the perspective of nine-year-old Bruno, the son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno arrives home from school one day to find the family's maid packing their things. Unbeknownst to Bruno, his father has been selected to oversee operations at Auschwitz (which Bruno hears as "Out-With") and the family...

(The entire section is 2,776 words.)