The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

By John Boyne


Welcome to the world of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne! 📚✨ This poignant novel, set against the grim backdrop of World War II, is a profound exploration of friendship, innocence, and the stark realities of the Holocaust. Written by the Irish author John Boyne and published in 2006, the book quickly garnered attention for its unique perspective and emotional depth.

John Boyne, born in Dublin in 1971, has penned several novels for adults and younger readers, but “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” stands out as one of his most impactful works. Drawing from the historical events of the Holocaust, Boyne crafts a narrative that is both accessible and deeply moving, making it a valuable read for people of all ages.

The genre of the book blends historical fiction with a coming-of-age tale, offering readers a window into the experiences of an eight-year-old boy named Bruno, who befriends a Jewish boy living in a concentration camp. Through Bruno’s innocent eyes, readers are introduced to the complexities and atrocities of the war, making the novel an unforgettable journey into the heart of darkness and the light of friendship.

Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the story, characters, and themes of this remarkable novel! 🌟

Plot Summary

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” unfolds through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy, Bruno, whose life changes drastically when his family moves from Berlin to a house near a concentration camp, due to his father’s promotion as a high-ranking officer. The plot is marked by its innocence and tragedy, captured through the following main events:

Exposition — Bruno and his family relocate to “Out-With” (a child’s understanding of Auschwitz), leaving behind his home, friends, and beloved grandparents in Berlin. Bruno struggles to understand his new, desolate surroundings and why they had to move.

Rising Action — Exploring his new environment, Bruno discovers a fence that stretches as far as the eye can see and behind it, he notices people wearing what he believes are striped pajamas. His curiosity leads him to meet Shmuel, a Jewish boy of his age, wearing the “striped pajamas” and living on the other side of the fence. They strike a friendship, meeting secretly and talking through the fence.

Climax — The climax of the story is heart-wrenching. Bruno decides to help Shmuel find his father, who has gone missing within the camp. Bruno digs a hole under the fence to join Shmuel, donning a set of striped pajamas himself to blend in.

Falling Action — Unaware of the camp’s true nature, Bruno and Shmuel search for Shmuel’s father but are rounded up with a group of prisoners during a rainstorm and led to a gas chamber.

Resolution — The novel concludes on a somber note. Bruno’s disappearance leads his family to search for him, eventually discovering his clothes outside the camp fence. The narrative leaves the fate of Bruno and Shmuel to the reader’s understanding, implying their tragic end in the gas chamber. The family is left to grapple with the loss and the father’s realization of the horrors he has been a part of.

This story, rich in its simplicity and devastating in its conclusion, offers a unique lens on the horrors of the Holocaust, challenging readers to confront the impact of innocence amidst unthinkable brutality.

Character Analysis

In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” John Boyne presents a cast of characters through which he explores themes of innocence, friendship, and the brutal reality of war. Here’s a closer look at the main characters:

  • Bruno — The protagonist of the story, Bruno is a naive and adventurous eight-year-old boy. His innocence shields him from the grim realities of the Holocaust, allowing him to befriend Shmuel, a Jewish boy, without understanding the tragic circumstances of their lives. Throughout the novel, Bruno’s character embodies the innocence and purity of childhood, remaining untainted by the hatred surrounding him.
  • Shmuel — A Jewish boy of the same age as Bruno, Shmuel lives on the other side of the fence in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Despite his suffering and the horrors he has witnessed, Shmuel shows a gentle and kind nature in his friendship with Bruno. His character offers a stark contrast to Bruno’s sheltered life, highlighting the cruel divide forced upon people during the Holocaust.
  • Father (Ralf) — Bruno’s father, a high-ranking SS officer, is portrayed as a strict and authoritative figure. His dedication to his duty and the Nazi cause creates a distance between him and Bruno. As the novel progresses, the moral implications of his work begin to surface, culminating in a devastating realization by the end of the story.
  • Mother (Elsa) — Bruno’s mother is a caring and protective figure, struggling with the family’s relocation and her husband’s involvement in the Nazi regime. Her character evolves from passive acceptance to questioning the morality of their circumstances, reflecting the internal conflict faced by many during the war.
  • Gretel — Bruno’s older sister, often referred to as the “Hopeless Case,” Gretel undergoes a significant transformation throughout the novel. Initially absorbed with her dolls and later with a budding interest in Nazism, Gretel represents the influence of propaganda on youth and the loss of innocence.

Character Analysis Summary:

CharacterPersonalityMotivationsCharacter Development
BrunoNaive, adventurous, innocentFriendship, exploration, understanding his worldMaintains innocence and purity despite surroundings
ShmuelGentle, kind, resilientSurvival, friendshipStays compassionate despite his suffering
Father (Ralf)Authoritative, loyal, conflictedDuty, loyalty to the Nazi regimeSlow realization of the impact of his actions
Mother (Elsa)Protective, caring, morally tornProtecting her family, questioning moralityMoves from passive acceptance to questioning morality
GretelNaive, influenced, maturingAcceptance, understanding her worldShifts from childish interests to harsher realities

This character analysis reveals the depth of Boyne’s characters, each embodying different aspects of human nature and the impact of war. Through their journeys, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” paints a poignant picture of innocence, friendship, and the tragic consequences of hatred.

Themes and Symbols

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne explores several profound themes and employs meaningful symbols to enhance the narrative’s impact on readers. Here’s an exploration of the major themes and symbols within the novel:

  • Innocence and the Loss of Innocence — The innocence of Bruno and Shmuel stands in stark contrast to the world of hatred and brutality that surrounds them. Their friendship, devoid of prejudice, highlights the inherent innocence of children before it is corrupted by societal influences. The tragic ending symbolizes the inevitable loss of this innocence in a world consumed by hatred.
  • Friendship Across Divides — The bond between Bruno and Shmuel transcends the physical barrier of the fence and the ideological divides of the Holocaust. Their friendship demonstrates that empathy and human connection can flourish even in the most inhospitable conditions, challenging the notion of inherent enmity between different groups of people.
  • The Horror of War — Through the eyes of a child, the novel exposes the horrors and senselessness of war. Bruno’s confusion and the eventual tragedy highlight the devastating impact of conflict on innocent lives, questioning the very nature of humanity during times of war.
  • Prejudice and Propaganda — The influence of Nazi propaganda on characters such as Gretel and the wider society illustrates the dangerous power of prejudice and misinformation. The story examines how societies can be manipulated into complicity with evil through the spread of hate-filled ideologies.
  • Symbols:
  • The Fence — Represents the physical and ideological barriers that divide people. It symbolizes the separation enforced by prejudice and hatred but also the porous nature of such divisions, as evidenced by the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel.
  • Striped Pajamas — Symbolize the dehumanization of the Jewish prisoners. To Bruno, these are just odd clothes, but to the reader, they are a harrowing reminder of the loss of identity and humanity suffered by the Holocaust victims.
  • The House at Out-With — Represents isolation and the disconnect between the reality of the concentration camp and the lives of the camp’s overseers. It symbolizes the deliberate ignorance and denial that characterized much of the German population’s response to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Through these themes and symbols, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” offers a haunting reflection on the capacities for both kindness and cruelty in the human heart, urging readers to remember the lessons of the past and the value of empathy and understanding.

Writing Style and Tone

John Boyne’s writing style in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is distinguished by its simplicity, clarity, and emotional depth, which contribute significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the book. Here’s how these elements come together:

  • Simplicity and Directness — Boyne employs a straightforward narrative style, seen through the eyes of Bruno, an eight-year-old boy. This simplicity is deceptive, as it carries profound meanings and emotions beneath the surface, allowing readers of all ages to engage with the story’s deeper themes.
  • Perspective of Innocence — The use of a child’s perspective to tell a story set against the backdrop of the Holocaust creates a powerful contrast between the innocence of youth and the horrors of war. Bruno’s naive misunderstandings of his surroundings underscore the tragedy unfolding around him, adding to the story’s emotional weight.
  • Subtlety in Tone — Boyne masterfully balances a tone that is both light, reflecting the innocence and curiosity of Bruno, and haunting, as the grim realities of the concentration camp seep into the narrative. This delicate balance enhances the book’s impact, drawing readers into a reflection on the nature of evil and the importance of empathy.
  • Emotional Depth — Despite the simple language, the novel is rich in emotional depth, exploring themes of friendship, loss, and the impact of war on innocent lives. Boyne’s ability to evoke strong emotions in the reader is a testament to his skillful storytelling and nuanced character development.
  • Historical Context — While the book is a work of fiction, Boyne grounds his narrative in the historical reality of the Holocaust. The historical context provides a somber backdrop, making the story resonate more deeply with those familiar with the period’s atrocities.

These stylistic choices make “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” a memorable and impactful read, illustrating the power of narrative to foster empathy and understanding across the widest of divides. Through his writing style and tone, Boyne invites readers into a deeply moving exploration of innocence amidst one of history’s darkest times.

Literary Devices used in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

John Boyne’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is rich with literary devices that enhance the storytelling and convey deeper meanings. Here are the top 10 devices employed:

  1. Irony — The narrative is filled with situational irony, especially Bruno’s innocent misconceptions about his environment (e.g., “Out-With” for Auschwitz and “the Fury” for the Führer) that contrast sharply with the grim realities of the Holocaust.
  2. Symbolism — Symbols such as the fence and the striped pajamas carry deep meanings, representing division, dehumanization, and the innocence lost during the Holocaust.
  3. Metaphor — The entire novel can be seen as a metaphor for the loss of innocence and the devastation wrought by prejudice and hate.
  4. Foreshadowing — Subtle hints about the story’s tragic ending are woven throughout the narrative, building tension and anticipation.
  5. Imagery — Boyne uses vivid imagery to paint the stark contrasts between Bruno’s life in Berlin and the desolate environment of Auschwitz, enhancing the emotional depth and setting the story’s tone.
  6. Personification — The author occasionally personifies elements of the setting (e.g., the wind whispering secrets), adding a layer of depth to the narrative landscape.
  7. Allusion — References to historical figures and events, though often veiled through Bruno’s misunderstanding, provide a contextual backdrop that enriches the story.
  8. Simile — Boyne employs similes to draw comparisons that highlight Bruno’s innocence and the surreal nature of his new surroundings.
  9. Point of View — The novel is told from Bruno’s limited third-person point of view, emphasizing his naivety and the tragedy of his situation.
  10. Paradox — The friendship between Bruno and Shmuel is a paradox that stands in stark contrast to the hatred and division promoted by the Nazi regime, showcasing the innate capacity for empathy and connection in humans.

These literary devices work in concert to deepen the reader’s understanding of the novel’s themes, characters, and historical setting, demonstrating Boyne’s skillful storytelling and his ability to engage readers on multiple levels.

Literary Device Examples

Here’s an exploration of examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, formatted in tables for clarity.


Bruno’s misunderstanding of “Out-With” for Auschwitz and “the Fury” for the FührerThese examples highlight the dramatic irony of Bruno’s innocent misconceptions juxtaposed against the reader’s understanding of the true horrors of Auschwitz and the tyranny of Hitler.


The fence separating Bruno and ShmuelRepresents the artificial divisions created by prejudice and hate, while also symbolizing the innocence and purity of the boys’ friendship that transcends these barriers.


The story as a metaphor for the loss of innocenceThe novel itself serves as an extended metaphor for the loss of innocence and the devastating effects of war, seen through the eyes of a child.


Bruno’s constant questioning and explorationHis innocent inquiries and the urge to explore “the other side” of the fence foreshadow the tragic end of his and Shmuel’s story.


Descriptions of Auschwitz’s stark, desolate environmentThe vivid imagery used to describe the setting contrasts sharply with Bruno’s previous life, emphasizing the horror and sadness of the camp.


“The wind whispered through the cracks in the fence”Adds a haunting atmosphere to the scene, suggesting the secrets and stories carried by the wind within the camp’s confines.


References to “the Fury” and misunderstanding historical figuresThese allusions provide a backdrop of the broader historical context, enriching the story while highlighting Bruno’s innocence.


Bruno’s description of the camp as “a dot that became a speck that became a blob that became a figure”Illustrates Bruno’s perspective and the gradual unveiling of the camp’s reality to him, emphasizing his initial detachment and growing curiosity.

Point of View

The story told from Bruno’s limited perspectiveAllows readers to experience the story through the lens of innocence, emphasizing the tragedy and horror of the events unfolding around him.


The friendship between Bruno and Shmuel, a German boy and a Jewish prisonerThis paradoxical relationship challenges the notions of inherent enmity and prejudice, showcasing the innate human capacity for empathy and friendship even in the darkest of times.

These examples illustrate how John Boyne uses literary devices to add layers of meaning, enhance the narrative’s emotional impact, and deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – FAQs

Q: Who is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: John Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Q: What is the setting of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: The setting is primarily near Auschwitz concentration camp, referred to as “Out-With” by Bruno, during World War II.

Q: Who are the main characters in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: The main characters are Bruno, an eight-year-old German boy, and Shmuel, a Jewish boy of the same age who is a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Q: What themes are explored in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: Major themes include the innocence of childhood, the horror of the Holocaust, friendship across divides, and the impact of prejudice and war.

Q: What genre is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: The book is classified as historical fiction, with elements of drama and tragedy.

Q: Is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas based on a true story?
A: No, it is a work of fiction, although it is set against the real backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust.

Q: How does the story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas end?
A: The story ends tragically with Bruno sneaking into the concentration camp to help Shmuel find his father, leading to their implied deaths in a gas chamber.

Q: What is the significance of the title The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?
A: The title refers to Shmuel, who wears the striped uniform of a concentration camp prisoner, and symbolizes the innocence and tragedy of the Holocaust through the eyes of two children.

Q: Can The Boy in the Striped Pajamas be considered a children’s book?
A: While the protagonist is a child, the themes and setting of the book address complex and mature topics, making it suitable for older children and adults with guidance.

Q: Has The Boy in the Striped Pajamas been adapted into other formats?
A: Yes, the novel was adapted into a film in 2008 and has also been staged as a play, bringing the story to different audiences through various mediums.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
What is Bruno’s father’s occupation?TeacherDoctorSoldierCommandantD
Where does Bruno’s family move at the beginning of the story?BerlinAuschwitzLondonOut-WithB
What do Bruno and Shmuel have in common?They both have a siblingThey are from the same cityTheir birthdaysThey go to the same schoolC
How does Bruno describe the people he sees from his window?As farmersAs soldiersAs wearing striped pajamasAs playing a gameC
What ultimately happens to Bruno and Shmuel?They escape to BerlinThey find Shmuel’s fatherThey are separated foreverThey die in a gas chamberD
What does Bruno mistake the concentration camp for?A farmA schoolA playgroundA hospitalA
Who is responsible for the family’s move to Auschwitz?Bruno’s motherBruno’s fatherThe FuryShmuel’s familyB
What symbolizes the barrier between Bruno and Shmuel’s worlds?A riverA wallA fenceA forestC
How does Bruno’s view of his new home change over time?He grows to love itHe becomes indifferentHe wishes to return to BerlinHe wants to invite his friends overC
What theme is central to the novel?AdventureInnocence and the loss of itFriendshipAll of the aboveD

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and critical thinking regarding “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, focusing on key plot points, characters, and themes.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”:

“Bruno made a discovery one day, a discovery that would change his life forever. He had walked along the fence for as long as he could remember but never found anything that caught his eye until today. Today, he saw a dot that became a speck that became a blob that became a figure. It was a boy, just like him, but on the other side.”


  1. Foreshadowing – “a discovery that would change his life forever” hints at significant events to come, creating anticipation.
  2. Imagery – “a dot that became a speck that became a blob that became a figure” uses visual imagery to describe Bruno’s perspective as he notices Shmuel from a distance.
  3. Simile (Implied) – The transformation of the dot into a figure is likened to the process of making a vague idea or distant object clearer, suggesting the gradual realization and forming of a significant new relationship.
  4. Juxtaposition – “a boy, just like him, but on the other side” juxtaposes the similarities and differences between Bruno and Shmuel, highlighting their shared humanity despite the physical and ideological barriers separating them.