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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

  

by John Boyne

  • Characters /
  • Bruno

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Summary
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  • Intro
  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Quotes
  • Study Questions
  • Characters

  • Bruno
  • Bruno’s Timeline
  • Shmuel
  • Gretel
  • Bruno’s Mother
  • Bruno’s Father
  • Minor Characters
  • Analysis
  • Facts
  • Quizzes
  • Best of the Web
  • Table of Contents
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Bruno

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Character Analysis

Let’s face it: Kids are usually pretty perceptive, constantly paying attention and noticing things, especially when they’re not supposed to. It’s just how they roll. So why, we wonder, does Bruno not pick up on the fact that his father is a powerful Nazi? Or that his best friend is a Jewish kid trapped in a concentration camp? Or—speaking of concentration camps—that his family lives twenty feet away from one? He’s only nine years old, after all, an age that’s ripe for taking in the world around him. So let’s do some exploring.

The Sweet Life

At first, things are pretty good in Bruno’s life. He lives in Berlin in a five-story house, complete with a maid, cook, and butler. He has three best friends, two parents, and a somewhat annoying sister. In other words, it’s all good in Bruno’s hood. Well, at least until he comes home to find Maria (the maid) packing his things—then this world quickly goes out the window.

You know how kids are super curious? Well, Bruno’s no exception when it comes to his family’s move—he asks a lot of questions about this change. But his mother either evades him or gives him fluffy, vague answers. And he doesn’t get much better from his father, who explains, “This is my work, important to our country. Important to the Fury. You’ll understand that someday” (5.54). Translation? Don’t worry your pretty little head about this one, son—just fall in line. And since Bruno’s only nine, following his parents’ lead is really his only option.

In other words, as much as we can see that Bruno’s age makes him curious, we can also see that it limits how much of the world falls under his control—and that his parents have raised him to only concern himself with so much.

One is the Loneliest Number

After they move, Bruno tries to entertain himself, but it’s slim pickings out there at Auschwitz (go figure). He isn’t friendly with his sister, so she’s out, and there aren’t any other kids nearby—unless you count the hundreds trapped on the other side of the fence. At first, Bruno doesn’t know what to make of these kids—they’re all skinny and dirty and wear the same striped pajamas. It’s hardly a hygienic bunch, and they’re nothing like the children Bruno used to play with back in Berlin.

So for a few weeks, Bruno turns to the family’s help for company. But Maria and Pavel just aren’t the same as a young playmate, so at his core, Bruno is an unhappy guy:

When he closed his eyes, everything around him just felt empty and cold, as if he was in the loneliest place in the world. (2.61)

Here’s the thing: Bruno kind of is in “the loneliest place in the world,” what with living next to Auschwitz and all. But he’s young, so instead of comprehending his surroundings, he’s more tuned into how they make him feel—and while these feelings mirror and stem from where he’s living, he lacks the maturity to piece this all together. Instead, everything just feels “empty and cold.” It’s an instinctive, instead of intellectual, response to the terrible world Bruno finds himself living in.

Brother from Another Mother

Life begins to look up for Bruno, however, when he meets Shmuel. The only problem, of course, is that the kid lives on the other side of the fence—but while there’s literally no avoiding this reality (it’s a freaking fence, after all), Bruno pays their divider little mind. Shmuel’s easy to talk to and a good listener, and Bruno’s desperate for friendship so—being the kid that he is—his attention lands on how Shmuel satisfies one of his needs, instead of trying to really understand why his new friend is so thin and wears the same ratty clothes every day.

When Shmuel finds out that he and Bruno share the same birthday, he says, “We’re like twins” (10.572). In this moment, though, we can see just how un-twin-like these two really are. Yes, they’re the same age, and yes, they take to each other’s company easily—but for all the Bruno blissfully fails to understand about his pal and the other folks who “live” next door, Shmuel isn’t afforded to same luxury. We’re not saying it’s Bruno’s fault that he gets to stay a kid longer, but it’s important to note that someone his age is capable of understanding more than Bruno does.

In fact, Bruno may even understand more than he recognizes. Looking at Shmuel, Bruno understands “[…] sometimes people who were sad didn’t want to be asked about it” (10.546)—demonstrating an instinctive appreciation for how much his friend hurts, while also not pushing himself out of his comfort zone by spending time mulling over the potential sources of Shmuel’s pain in his mind.

Welcome to the Danger Zone

Speaking of Bruno and his comfort zone, let’s take a moment to talk about the moment with Shmuel and the chicken. In Chapter 15, Bruno finds Shmuel in his kitchen, cleaning glasses for his father’s birthday party, and he insists his friend have some chicken. But when Kotler catches Shmuel eating, and Shmuel says he’s noshing only because Bruno shared with him and they’re friends—Bruno totally denies knowing his poor buddy. Just like that, he totally gives their friendship the shaft.

So what’s up with this? Well, you know how Bruno only questions so much… and how his parents are fond of telling him to mind his own beeswax… and how scary (think: authoritative) Kotler is? We’re thinking that this all comes together in a perfect storm here, prompting Bruno to prioritize his own safety over Shmuel’s. Remember: Bruno, through a combination of naivety and being raised not to ask too many questions, doesn’t really understand Shmuel’s plight. So while he can see his friend’s fear here, he doesn’t appreciate how much higher the stakes are for Shmuel.

And so, like so many nine-year-olds would, Bruno protects his own butt. He doesn’t want Kotler to start yelling at him, so he keeps the man’s wrath on Shmuel.

Mr. Empathy

At the end of the day, Bruno lives in a nice, warm bubble. But what he lacks in perception, he ultimately makes up for in empathy, bringing Shmuel food, helping him try to find his father, and listening to his pal. And that’s a heck of a lot more than most concentration camp prisoners got. At one point, Bruno wonders:

What exactly was the difference? […] And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore uniforms? (9.516)

And when he does, it’s clear that while he lacks clear understanding of the world around him when it comes to facts and an ability to articulate the tragedy unfolding next door, his instincts are spot on. Unfortunately, though, in the end, Bruno’s naivety and empathy come together, prompting him to dress up as a camp prisoner to help Shmuel find his dad—and leading him to his death by his best friend’s side.

Bruno’s Timeline

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Characters

John Boyne


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At a Glance

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas key characters:

  • In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant; he remains innocent of the horrors of the Holocaust and befriends a prisoner at the death camp.

  • Shmuel is a young Polish Jew who does not understand why he is in the concentration camp. He befriends Bruno and the two share many similarities in spite of their different circumstances.

  • Gretel is Bruno’s sister and a staunch supporter of Nazi propaganda.

  • Bruno’s mother is largely ignorant of what goes on in Auschwitz; after realizing that her husband is ordering Jews to be murdered in the gas chambers, she decides to move back to Berlin with her children.

  • Bruno’s father is proud of his high-ranking position in the German military. Despite his reverence for the Nazi party, he does try to shield his family from the horrors of the death camp.

Download The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide

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Characters

  • print Print
  • document PDF
    • This Page Only
    • Entire Study Guide
  • list Cite
  • link Link

Bruno

Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant who is forced to leave his home in Berlin and move to Auschwitz where his father has been reassigned. He is reluctant to leave Berlin where he has three good friends, is close to his grandparents, and lives in a lovely home. Bruno is characterized by an endearing childhood innocence which becomes especially poignant when he meets a young prisoner on the other side of a fence near his house. Bruno remains strikingly unaffected by the war and unmoved by the Nazi beliefs and propaganda which he confronts daily. This may well be due to his young age or the result of his character. In any case, Bruno represents man’s capacity for kindness and compassion.

Shmuel

Shmuel is a young Polish Jew who is a prisoner in Auschwitz. Bruno meets him at a fence while exploring near his house. Shmuel is as innocent as Bruno and seems not to quite understand why he is a prisoner. Shmuel reveals that his mother is a teacher who speaks German (which she has taught him), French, Italian and English (which she plans to teach him). Until the deportation, Shmuel lived with his mother, father and brother above his father’s watchmaking shop. He tells Bruno about how he came home from school one day to find his mother making armbands for the family which the Nazis forced them to wear. Bruno has a hard time comprehending some of the stories Shmuel tells him because it seems so unimaginable to him. Shmuel becomes worried once his father goes missing in the camp and asks for Bruno’s help in finding him. Bruno’s willingness to help his friend results in both of them dying at the merciless hands of the Nazis.

Bruno and Shmuel seem to lead parallel yet mutually exclusive lives. They share common interests, the same birthday, and a similar perspective on life. Their friendship is not just unlikely; it defies possibility. In a world and a time where people were being told what to think, who to hate and what relationships were acceptable, Bruno and Shmuel demonstrate how resistant and resilient children can be and how important kindness and compassion are.

Gretel

Gretel, Bruno’s older sister, annoys him a great deal; he refers to her as a “Hopeless Case” who does nothing but cause him grief. Gretel fancies herself far more mature and worldly than Bruno, despite her doll collection which would seem to symbolize her naivete. Gretel is increasingly interested in the beliefs and activities of the Nazi party and, after their move to Auschwitz, befriends one of the Nazi camp guards. In an effort to demonstrate her devotion and dedication to the ideals of the Hitler Youth, Gretel gives up her doll collection for Nazi propaganda posters and literature. Gretel may represent those in German society who were aware of the horrors of the Holocaust but made a conscious choice to do nothing to help others.

Bruno’s Mother

Bruno’s mother tries desperately to shield her children from the horrors of the Holocaust which is taking place virtually in their backyard. To some extent, she seems to turn a blind eye to what her husband does for a living and to what is taking place in the camp. She becomes distraught when she learns that Auschwitz is not a concentration camp but rather a death camp. She is furious when she finds out that her husband has been ordering the slaughter of thousands of Jews in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. She concludes that Auschwitz is no place to raise children and decides to move back to Berlin with the children.

Bruno’s Father

Bruno’s father (referred to simply as “Father” throughout the novel) is a Nazi commandant who seems to truly revere Nazi ideology. When Bruno’s grandparents learn of his father’s promotion to Commandant, Bruno’s grandfather is extremely proud of his son’s accomplishments while Bruno’s grandmother is horrified at the thought of what he will be doing. Once the family is settled in their new home, Father is thrilled to host Hitler and his female companion, Eva, for dinner and is determined to make a positive impression. Despite Father’s professional inhumanity, he does try to shield his own family from the nefarious goings-on at Auschwitz.

Pavel

Pavel is a Jewish servant who works in Bruno’s home. Bruno believes that Pavel and the other people he sees from his bedroom window are pajama-wearing farmers. Pavel had been a well-established doctor before his internment and Bruno cannot understand why he gave up that career to be a farmer who peels potatoes for Bruno’s family. When Bruno falls from a tree swing in the garden Pavel uses his medical skills to care for Bruno. One day, Pavel is beaten by Lieutenant Kotler and no longer comes to the family’s home afterwards; the family’s maid, Maria must clean up the bloody mess.

Lieutenant Kotler

Lieutenant Kotler is an arrogant Nazi guard with aspirations of greatness. He relishes any opportunity to abuse and demean the prisoners who work in Bruno’s house; not only does he seem to truly believe that he is superior to them but he also seems to enjoy showing off for Gretel.

Herr Liszt

Herr Liszt is the tutor hired by Bruno’s father who tries to instill him and Gretel with Nazi rhetoric. Gretel is a willing student while Bruno seems skeptical and inquisitive; he is not quite as willing as Gretel to accept Herr Liszt’s version of history, in particular.

Each of the characters, though imbued with individual characteristics and personalities, represents a different stereotype of someone who lived during the Holocaust. For example, Gretel symbolizes the members of the Hitler Youth who blindly accepts the ideology and practiced modeled by the Nazi party. Lieutenant Kotler is but one of countless ardent supporters of Hitler’s policies and practices. Not only does he believe that the Germans are superior to the Jews but he clearly enjoys any chance he gets to point this out whether it is by making anti-Semitic comments or beating prisoners relentlessly. Bruno’s mother is a bystander who likely feels badly about what is happening to the victims but chooses to do and say nothing. This kind of feigned ignorance is one of the reasons Hitler was able to continue his systematic extermination of millions for as long as he did. Had all of the bystanders in Europe stood up against such persecution, it is possible that Hitler could have been stopped.

Next:Critical Essays
Previous:Themes


Homework Help

Ask a Question

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Homework Help Questions

  • Describe the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel.

    I think that the friendship between both boys can be described as real.  Their friendship is one that cuts through social distinctions, religious distinctions, and historical conditions.  Both…

  • In John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which character is in a worse situation, Bruno or…

    Although Bruno and Shmuel are both tragic characters who die at the end of the novel, I believe that Shmuel has a more difficult plight throughout the story. Unlike Bruno who lives in relative…

  • What makes The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a worthy book to read?What makes The Boy in the Striped…

    I think that you could probably pull many different answers for this one.  I would say that one reason why the book is a worthy one to read is that it takes one of the most difficult of topics and…

  • If you were to change the last chapter of the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, how would you…

    I think that the existing ending chapter is a fairly good one.  I think that the manner in which Boyne has constructed life after Bruno’s death is a good one.  I would like to see more…

  • Describe the main characters John Boyne’s young adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

    The little boys whose innocent friendship forms the central plot of the story are named Bruno and Shmuel.  Bruno is the nine year old child of a Nazi commandant, and Shmuel is a young…

View More Questions »

Ask a question

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This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience.
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Got it!

rows
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search

Home



>

Study Guides



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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Characters

John Boyne


Homework Help

At a Glance

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas key characters:

  • In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant; he remains innocent of the horrors of the Holocaust and befriends a prisoner at the death camp.

  • Shmuel is a young Polish Jew who does not understand why he is in the concentration camp. He befriends Bruno and the two share many similarities in spite of their different circumstances.

  • Gretel is Bruno’s sister and a staunch supporter of Nazi propaganda.

  • Bruno’s mother is largely ignorant of what goes on in Auschwitz; after realizing that her husband is ordering Jews to be murdered in the gas chambers, she decides to move back to Berlin with her children.

  • Bruno’s father is proud of his high-ranking position in the German military. Despite his reverence for the Nazi party, he does try to shield his family from the horrors of the death camp.

Download The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide

Subscribe now to download this study guide, along with more than 30,000 other titles. Get help with any book.

Download PDF

Characters

  • print Print
  • document PDF
    • This Page Only
    • Entire Study Guide
  • list Cite
  • link Link

Bruno

Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant who is forced to leave his home in Berlin and move to Auschwitz where his father has been reassigned. He is reluctant to leave Berlin where he has three good friends, is close to his grandparents, and lives in a lovely home. Bruno is characterized by an endearing childhood innocence which becomes especially poignant when he meets a young prisoner on the other side of a fence near his house. Bruno remains strikingly unaffected by the war and unmoved by the Nazi beliefs and propaganda which he confronts daily. This may well be due to his young age or the result of his character. In any case, Bruno represents man’s capacity for kindness and compassion.

Shmuel

Shmuel is a young Polish Jew who is a prisoner in Auschwitz. Bruno meets him at a fence while exploring near his house. Shmuel is as innocent as Bruno and seems not to quite understand why he is a prisoner. Shmuel reveals that his mother is a teacher who speaks German (which she has taught him), French, Italian and English (which she plans to teach him). Until the deportation, Shmuel lived with his mother, father and brother above his father’s watchmaking shop. He tells Bruno about how he came home from school one day to find his mother making armbands for the family which the Nazis forced them to wear. Bruno has a hard time comprehending some of the stories Shmuel tells him because it seems so unimaginable to him. Shmuel becomes worried once his father goes missing in the camp and asks for Bruno’s help in finding him. Bruno’s willingness to help his friend results in both of them dying at the merciless hands of the Nazis.

Bruno and Shmuel seem to lead parallel yet mutually exclusive lives. They share common interests, the same birthday, and a similar perspective on life. Their friendship is not just unlikely; it defies possibility. In a world and a time where people were being told what to think, who to hate and what relationships were acceptable, Bruno and Shmuel demonstrate how resistant and resilient children can be and how important kindness and compassion are.

Gretel

Gretel, Bruno’s older sister, annoys him a great deal; he refers to her as a “Hopeless Case” who does nothing but cause him grief. Gretel fancies herself far more mature and worldly than Bruno, despite her doll collection which would seem to symbolize her naivete. Gretel is increasingly interested in the beliefs and activities of the Nazi party and, after their move to Auschwitz, befriends one of the Nazi camp guards. In an effort to demonstrate her devotion and dedication to the ideals of the Hitler Youth, Gretel gives up her doll collection for Nazi propaganda posters and literature. Gretel may represent those in German society who were aware of the horrors of the Holocaust but made a conscious choice to do nothing to help others.

Bruno’s Mother

Bruno’s mother tries desperately to shield her children from the horrors of the Holocaust which is taking place virtually in their backyard. To some extent, she seems to turn a blind eye to what her husband does for a living and to what is taking place in the camp. She becomes distraught when she learns that Auschwitz is not a concentration camp but rather a death camp. She is furious when she finds out that her husband has been ordering the slaughter of thousands of Jews in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. She concludes that Auschwitz is no place to raise children and decides to move back to Berlin with the children.

Bruno’s Father

Bruno’s father (referred to simply as “Father” throughout the novel) is a Nazi commandant who seems to truly revere Nazi ideology. When Bruno’s grandparents learn of his father’s promotion to Commandant, Bruno’s grandfather is extremely proud of his son’s accomplishments while Bruno’s grandmother is horrified at the thought of what he will be doing. Once the family is settled in their new home, Father is thrilled to host Hitler and his female companion, Eva, for dinner and is determined to make a positive impression. Despite Father’s professional inhumanity, he does try to shield his own family from the nefarious goings-on at Auschwitz.

Pavel

Pavel is a Jewish servant who works in Bruno’s home. Bruno believes that Pavel and the other people he sees from his bedroom window are pajama-wearing farmers. Pavel had been a well-established doctor before his internment and Bruno cannot understand why he gave up that career to be a farmer who peels potatoes for Bruno’s family. When Bruno falls from a tree swing in the garden Pavel uses his medical skills to care for Bruno. One day, Pavel is beaten by Lieutenant Kotler and no longer comes to the family’s home afterwards; the family’s maid, Maria must clean up the bloody mess.

Lieutenant Kotler

Lieutenant Kotler is an arrogant Nazi guard with aspirations of greatness. He relishes any opportunity to abuse and demean the prisoners who work in Bruno’s house; not only does he seem to truly believe that he is superior to them but he also seems to enjoy showing off for Gretel.

Herr Liszt

Herr Liszt is the tutor hired by Bruno’s father who tries to instill him and Gretel with Nazi rhetoric. Gretel is a willing student while Bruno seems skeptical and inquisitive; he is not quite as willing as Gretel to accept Herr Liszt’s version of history, in particular.

Each of the characters, though imbued with individual characteristics and personalities, represents a different stereotype of someone who lived during the Holocaust. For example, Gretel symbolizes the members of the Hitler Youth who blindly accepts the ideology and practiced modeled by the Nazi party. Lieutenant Kotler is but one of countless ardent supporters of Hitler’s policies and practices. Not only does he believe that the Germans are superior to the Jews but he clearly enjoys any chance he gets to point this out whether it is by making anti-Semitic comments or beating prisoners relentlessly. Bruno’s mother is a bystander who likely feels badly about what is happening to the victims but chooses to do and say nothing. This kind of feigned ignorance is one of the reasons Hitler was able to continue his systematic extermination of millions for as long as he did. Had all of the bystanders in Europe stood up against such persecution, it is possible that Hitler could have been stopped.

Next:Critical Essays
Previous:Themes


Homework Help

Ask a Question

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Homework Help Questions

  • Describe the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel.

    I think that the friendship between both boys can be described as real.  Their friendship is one that cuts through social distinctions, religious distinctions, and historical conditions.  Both…

  • In John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which character is in a worse situation, Bruno or…

    Although Bruno and Shmuel are both tragic characters who die at the end of the novel, I believe that Shmuel has a more difficult plight throughout the story. Unlike Bruno who lives in relative…

  • What makes The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a worthy book to read?What makes The Boy in the Striped…

    I think that you could probably pull many different answers for this one.  I would say that one reason why the book is a worthy one to read is that it takes one of the most difficult of topics and…

  • If you were to change the last chapter of the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, how would you…

    I think that the existing ending chapter is a fairly good one.  I think that the manner in which Boyne has constructed life after Bruno’s death is a good one.  I would like to see more…

  • Describe the main characters John Boyne’s young adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

    The little boys whose innocent friendship forms the central plot of the story are named Bruno and Shmuel.  Bruno is the nine year old child of a Nazi commandant, and Shmuel is a young…

View More Questions »

Ask a question

Popular Study Guides

  • The Raven

    Edgar Allan Poe

  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find

    Flannery O’Connor

  • The Vendor of Sweets

    R. K. Narayan

  • Good Country People

    Flannery O’Connor

  • A Devoted Son

    Anita Desai

New Study Guides

  • Between the World and Me

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

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    Roxane Gay

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    Yaa Gyasi

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This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience.
Learn more.
Got it!

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