The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Father Character Analysis

Ralf, Bruno’s father, was a soldier in the Great War (World War I), and is promoted to Commandant in the German Army by Hitler during World War II. He moves the family to Auschwitz, where he is in charge of the camp. Father is strict and intimidating, but expresses tenderness towards his family. He eventually consents to letting the family move back to Berlin, though he remains at Auschwitz to continue his duties for Hitler. A year after Bruno disappears, he figures out what happened to his son, and is destroyed by the realization. When the Allied soldiers come to take him away for punishment, Father submits to their demands, as he no longer has the will to live.

Father Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The The Boy in the Striped Pajamas quotes below are all either spoken by Father or refer to Father . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the David Fickling Books edition of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“It’s a very important job,” said Mother, hesitating for a moment. “A job that needs a very special man to do it. You can understand that, can’t you?”

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno comes home from school one day to find the family maid, Maria, packing his belongings into wooden crates. When he enters his mother's bedroom to ask why Maria is doing this, he finds the family butler, Lars, packing up Mother's belongings as well. Mother takes him downstairs and explains that the entire family—Bruno, Mother, Father, and Bruno's sister, Gretel—is moving away from Berlin. Mother tells Bruno that Father has a very important job, and that the man who employs him has a new, special job for him away from the city. 

Mother's hesitation to tell Bruno more about his father's new "special job"—serving as the commander of a concentration camp—speaks to both her own discomfort about the job and to the sheltered world in which Bruno and Gretel are kept. Despite the fact that she is not happy with the prospect of moving her family to a Nazi concentration camp, her role as a woman (and her complicity with the Nazi regime) makes her submissive to the commands of her husband, a high-ranking officer in Hitler's army. As a young child, Bruno is both protected from the grim nature of his father's job, and expected not to ask too many questions, as his parents seem to want to keep him ignorant and innocent of the realities of Germany at the time. Mother and Bruno's subordination to Father's orders is also indicative of traditional gender and family roles favored by the Nazi party.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“We don’t have the luxury of thinking,” said Mother. “…Some people make all the decisions for us.”

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno's family travels to their new home (in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, where his father will serve as commander) far away from Berlin. He is upset to see how different the new home, and location, is from their house in the center of the city.

When Bruno tells Mother that he thinks moving was a bad idea, she replies with this quote: that "Some people" make all the decisions for the family. Mother frequently uses the phrase "Some people" to refer to Father. In this quote, Mother is explaining that, as a woman and a child, she and Bruno are subordinate to the decisions of Father, the patriarch of the family. In effect, they not only can't voice their concerns, but that they aren't even allowed to think them—their role is simply to obey. This idea of complete obedience is further reinforced when, as she speaks, Mother begins to unpack boxes, showing Bruno that even though he (and she) are unhappy with their new situation, the family is there to stay whether he likes it or not.

The idea of simply accepting situations and following orders also serves as a larger criticism of Nazi Germany in general. After the war, many Nazi soldiers defended their actions by claiming that they were only "following orders" as they carried out the horrors of the Holocaust. In this way, Boyne uses Mother's insistence that she has to listen to father as well, as Bruno's innocence and ignorance, to represent the blindness with which many soldiers followed Hitler's orders, and in so doing perpetrated the horrors of the Holocaust.

Chapter 3 Quotes

“But what does it mean?” he asked in exasperation. “Out with what?”
“Out with the people who lived here before us, I expect,” said Gretel. “It must have to do with the fact that he didn’t do a very good job and someone said out with him and let’s get a man in who can do it right.”
“You mean Father.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: Out-With
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno had many friends to play with back in Berlin, but in Auschwitz, he and Gretel only have each other. Though they don't often get along, the one thing the siblings do agree upon is the fact that they miss their old home.

Like Bruno, Gretel is sheltered from the true facts of their father's job. However, being three years older than him, she has a better grasp as to what brought the family to Auschwitz (even though her broader understanding is still limited, as she believes Auschwitz is the name of their new house rather than the camp around it). While she cannot pronounce the name correctly and calls it "Out-With" like Bruno does, she understands that the relocation has something to do with a perceived superiority of one group of people over another. 

Unlike Bruno, Gretel more readily accepts Father's orders. She senses that there is something unpleasant about the nature of Auschwitz, but rather than questioning it, she fully believes that Father has been appointed to fix a pressing problem. Boyne shapes the character of Gretel to represent the Nazi Youth culture that pervaded Germany during this time period, in which young and impressionable children became indoctrinated with the values of the Nazi party and were trained to spread its message without question. 


Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ah, those people,” said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. “Those people…well, they’re not people at all, Bruno.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of bravery, Bruno enters Father's office, which is usually off-limits, to confront his father about his unhappiness at Auschwitz. Though Father repeats what Mother and Maria have already told Bruno—that he must accept their new life away from Berlin—Bruno refuses. Angered, Father orders his son to go to his room. Before he goes, however, Bruno asks Father about the boys and men living on the other side of the fence. 

As a high-ranking Nazi official, Bruno's father subscribes to and perpetuates the anti-Semitic views held by Hitler and his followers. Supported by pseudoscience, much of the Nazi Party's rhetoric and self-conception rested on the claim that Jews and other minorities were less than human, and inferior to the blond-haired, blue-eyed "Aryan" image the party favored. In his new role as a director of the camp, Father is instrumental in overseeing the systematic torture and murder of the boys and men who are wearing what Bruno innocently sees as "striped pajamas." Here Father seems to confidently justify his actions—after all, if those being murdered aren't really human, then it isn't really murder. In this quote, Boyne also includes the image of Father's slight smile to underscore how key coordinators of the Holocaust, such as Father and Hitler, truly believed that their unspeakable actions were justified, and that those who did not agree were silly (much as Father seems to think Bruno's questions are silly). 

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Bruno, if you have any sense at all, you will stay quiet and concentrate on your schoolwork and do whatever your father tells you. We must all just keep ourselves safe until this is all over. That’s what I intend to do anyway. What more can we do than that after all? It’s not up to us to change things.”

Related Characters: Maria (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After a few days at Auschwitz, Bruno encounters Maria and asks her how she feels about the family's move. Maria avoids any chance Bruno gives her to speak ill of his Mother and Father, and instead tells him that he must follow his parents' wishes. Bruno goes on to complain that his father has made a "terrible mistake" in moving the family.

In this quote, Maria tells Bruno that he is not allowed to constantly state how he feels. As a young child who is still figuring out the world and his social situation, Bruno has difficulty with processing and containing his emotions. (Furthermore, he is rather rich and spoiled, and so is used to getting his way when he complains.) Maria, who is better versed in the political and social situation in Germany, knows that one wrong, overheard sentence can have someone thrown in jail, or worse. As a maid, her livelihood is at the mercy of Mother and Father—she is not only a woman, but also a social inferior to the Nazi couple. If she were to be found speaking ill of the family, or found to have encouraged any such thoughts in Bruno, Maria could potentially be fired or more harshly punished.

While Maria's fearful silence seems totally justified, it also means that she becomes unwillingly complicit in the crimes that her employer (Father) is perpetrating. She would endanger herself if she spoke out, but she endangers many more by remaining silent. This shows the very difficult choices that faced everyone in Nazi Germany—except for those who could still remain as ignorant and innocent as Bruno.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“Poland,” said Bruno thoughtfully, weighing up the word on his tongue. “That’s not as good as Germany, is it?”
Shmuel frowned. “Why isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, because Germany is the greatest of all countries,” Bruno replied, remembering something that he had overheard Father discussing with Grandfather on any number of occasions. “We’re superior.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father , Grandfather
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

The boy on the other side of the fence tells Bruno his name is Shmuel, and that he is from Poland. In this quote, Bruno repeats what Father and Grandfather have said about Germany being a separate and "superior" nation compared to others. 

Bruno believes that Germany is a superior nation only due to what he has heard his elders say, and not due to a personally held belief (or any kind of truth he has experienced). This system of indoctrination is how the Nazi party cultivated a younger generation of nationalistic party supporters. It is also indicative of the role that parents, in any society, play in shaping their children's beliefs. Here, Boyne shows that prejudices are often passed from one generation to the next, so that when a boy such as Bruno grows up, he continues to believe that Germans are superior and cultivates a disdain for other cultures. It is this dangerous cycle that fed into the widespread Nationalism and anti-Semitism of World War II. 

Chapter 13 Quotes

“There aren’t any good soldiers,” said Shmuel.
“Of course there are,” said Bruno.
“Who?”
“Well, Father, for one,” said Bruno. “That’s why he has such an impressive uniform and why everyone calls him Commandant and does whatever he says. The Fury has big things in mind for him because he’s such a good soldier.”
“There aren’t any good soldiers,” repeated Shmuel.
“Except Father,” repeated Bruno, who was hoping that Shmuel wouldn’t say that again because he didn’t want to have to argue with him. After all, he was the only friend he had here at Out-With. But Father was Father, and Bruno didn’t think it was right for someone to say something bad about him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: The Fury
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

One day at the Fence, Bruno and Shmuel discuss what they want to be when they grow up. Shmuel notes that he wants to work in a zoo, while Bruno says he wants to become a soldier like Father. In this quote, Shmuel counters Bruno to claim that there are no good soldiers, and Bruno refutes his statement out of respect for his father.

As a prisoner in a concentration camp, Shmuel has no reason to believe that there are any good soldiers in the world. The only soldiers he has encountered are ones that taunt and torture him and the other prisoners in the camp. Even Bruno understands that someone like Lieutenant Kotler has a sadistic side, and thinks that he would not want to be that kind of soldier, but he defends Father by default, as he does not understand that Father's true role in Shmuel's suffering. This again shows Bruno parroting the ideology he has been taught, as even in his relative innocence he still places country and family over his new friendship with Shmuel.

What happened then was both unexpected and extremely unpleasant. Lieutenant Kotler grew very angry with Pavel and no one—not Bruno, not Gretel, not Mother and not even Father—stepped in to stop him doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch. Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretel grow pale.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel, Mother , Father , Lieutenant Kotler , Pavel
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno notices that Pavel, the Jewish servant who once treated his wounds and claimed to be a doctor, becomes weaker each day. One night at dinner, he continually blunders his serving job, until he finally loses grip of a bottle of wine and spills it onto Lieutenant Kotler's lap. It may be inferred from this quote that Kotler beats Pavel mercilessly as punishment, and perhaps even kills him.

Though Pavel works in the home of Mother and Father, he is still considered a prisoner, and as a Jew, he is seen as less than human by the Nazis. Though such dehumanization and violence is constantly occurring on the other side of the Fence, this is seemingly the first time Bruno experiences it up close, and he is shocked. This is an important passage because it shows how complicity can be just as bad as negative action. Kotler is the one actually beating Pavel, but Father and Mother's unwillingness to stop him ends up with the same result. This is a point often made about the Holocaust—it might have been a minority of the population actually perpetrating atrocities, but the majority who stood by and did nothing about it were guilty as well.

This scene, which makes Bruno cry, also shows him further losing his innocence about the reality of his situation. It then becomes more far-fetched that he continues to remain so "innocent" and ignorant in his ensuing interactions with Shmuel. This suggests that Bruno too is trying to avoid thinking about things he doesn't want to, and thus is, in his own way, becoming complicit in the crimes he doesn't speak out against.

Chapter 17 Quotes

He paused for a moment and looked out the window to his left—the window that led off to a view of the camp on the other side of the fence. “When I think about it, perhaps she is right. Perhaps this is not a place for children.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno, Gretel, Mother
Related Symbols: Out-With, The Fence
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, Father calls Gretel and Bruno into his office. He explains that he and Mother have been discussing the possibility of returning to Berlin, though he himself would remain at Auschwitz to command the camp. In this quote, Father expresses that Mother has told him that she did not think Auschwitz was a suitable location to raise her family. 

This quote is a rare moment of introspection by Father, a character whom the reader hears about but seldom sees speak. Father is largely characterized as a cold person, a figure whom Bruno longs for more time with and respects, but is also somewhat scared of. Furthermore, as a commander of a concentration camp, Father oversees the torture, starvation, and murder of thousands of people each day. At Mother's urging, he comes to understand that this kind of environment could be toxic to his children. This moment of reflection shows that while he is capable of extremely horrific acts of war, he simultaneously harbors compassion for his family. The stark mental divide many Nazis held between their work and their personal lives was something psychologically studied after the Holocaust, as men who otherwise seemed like decent, moral human beings could commit atrocities while staying sane and otherwise "normal."

Chapter 18 Quotes

Shmuel bit his lip and said nothing. He had seen Bruno’s father on any number of occasions and couldn’t understand how such a man could have a son who was so friendly and kind.

Related Characters: Shmuel (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

Shmuel remarks to Bruno that he hates soldiers, since he knows that they hate him and the rest of the prisoners on his side of the Fence. Bruno, confused, asks him if he hates his Father. Shmuel wants to say yes, but holds back his answer. In this quote, he wonders how Bruno could be so kind when his Father is so cruel. 

Bruno, meanwhile, seems unwilling to accept that his Father is directly in charge of the misery that Shmuel faces every day. Bruno remains very naive and ignorant, but the more he learns the more uncomfortable he grows with the truth of his and Shmuel's situation. Here Boyne also makes his usual point about the inherent innocence of children, as the division between Father and Bruno represents the idea that hatred is not instinctive, or naturally divided along racial or national lines, but rather that it must be taught. Boyne contrasts Bruno and Father to show that it is possible for a younger generation to fix the toxic and prejudiced views of its elders. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

He looked into the distance then and followed it through logically, step by step by step, and when he did he found that his legs seemed to stop working right—as if they couldn’t hold his body up any longer—and he ended up sitting on the ground in almost exactly the same position as Bruno had every afternoon for a year, although he didn’t cross his legs beneath him.

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno's absence is quickly noticed by his family, who search everywhere to no avail. Mother and Gretel stay at Auschwitz for a few months in the hopes that Bruno will return, though they eventually return to Berlin. Father remains at Auschwitz for one more year, and eventually forms a theory as to what might have happened to Bruno. When he reaches the hole in the Fence that Bruno crawled through, he realizes what happened to his son. 

In this quote, Father literally collapses under the weight of the realization that Bruno died in the concentration camp. Father is in fact indirectly involved in Bruno's murder, since he was one of the soldiers in charge of overseeing the systematic execution of the Jews. Though Nazis believed there were many physical and spiritual differences between Germans and Jews, when Bruno and Shmuel dressed similarly, there was no determining who was Jewish and who was German. Shmuel, a Jew, may have just as well been raised an Aryan German like Bruno, and vice versa. Here, Boyne points out the tragedy of scapegoating marginalized members of society, as these prejudices are completely manufactured by ideologies such as Nazism and have absolutely no basis in fact. By committing a crime against the Jews, Father was ultimately committing a crime against humanity, including his own son.

Interestingly, Boyne continues to use his childlike language and the tone of a parable even after his young protagonist is dead. This sort of detached, innocent view of things helps put the horrors he is describing in a different perspective from typical WWII or Holocaust books.

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Father Character Timeline in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The timeline below shows where the character Father appears in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...and that he has done nothing wrong to cause the move. She explains that his Father’s job in the army necessitates their moving far away from Berlin for the time being.... (full context)
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...family could bring along his grandparents instead. He hears his mother and father talking in Father’s office, which is “Out Of Bounds At All Times.” Feeling defeated, Bruno goes to his... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...alone in a desolate place, with no other families around. The only similarity is that Father has another office in this house, which is also off-limits to Bruno. Bruno desperately misses... (full context)
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...“some people” make all the decisions for the household. When Mother wants to refer to Father without naming him, Bruno notices that she always calls him “some people.” She instructs Bruno... (full context)
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...strict. He nods at Bruno and then leaves. Maria guesses that he is one of Father’s soldiers. (full context)
Chapter 3
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...new bedroom. The siblings theorize about how long they might live in the new house. Father had told both of them that they would be living there for “the foreseeable future,”... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...could no longer be seen.” Bruno and Gretel are both confused as to why their Father would move them from a nice street in Berlin to such a desolate place with... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Bruno decides that he must speak with Father about how much he dislikes their new home. Father had left for the new house... (full context)
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...father since arriving at Out-With. He hears a commotion downstairs and looks down to see Father talking with a group of five men. His father is dressed in his military finest,... (full context)
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Bruno creeps down the stairs and decides to try and see Father in his office. In Berlin, Bruno had only been inside Father’s office a handful of... (full context)
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Bruno asks Father when the family is returning to Berlin, but Father counters by saying a home is... (full context)
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Unsure how to respond, Bruno asks Father if he did something to make the Fury angry, due to the fact that he... (full context)
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Father is silent for a time, and then he goes and sits behind his desk. He... (full context)
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Before he goes to his bedroom, Bruno asks his father who the people outside are. Father tells Bruno that they are soldiers, secretaries, and staff workers. Bruno asks who the people... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Bruno begs Maria to tell him how she feels, because he still hopes to convince Father to take them home again, especially if everyone feels the same way as he does.... (full context)
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...Maria to his campaign to leave Out-With. Maria looks out the window, and muses that Father has a kindness in his soul, but that it makes her “wonder what he…how he... (full context)
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Alone again with Maria, Bruno admits that he still thinks Father has made a terrible mistake. Maria says that even if that’s how he feels, he... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...a young man but became ill after suffering a head injury in World War I. Father had served with Herr Roller in the trenches. Mother refused to speak on the topic... (full context)
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...is the perfect tree on which to construct a tire swing. That day, Mother and Father are both out of the house, so Bruno is on his own to find the... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...at their last Christmas in Berlin had ended in sadness. Something exciting had happened with Father—he was now to be addressed by Maria, their Cook, and Lars the butler as “Commandant,”... (full context)
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Grandmother asks Father if there was something that went wrong when she was raising him, and Father tells... (full context)
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...door slams open, and Grandmother comes out, saying that she is ashamed of her son. Father calls after her and says that he is a patriot, but Grandmother retorts that seeing... (full context)
Chapter 9
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One day Father decides that Bruno and Gretel should resume their studies. A few days later, a man... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Several months before Bruno first met Shmuel, Bruno remembers the day that Father received a new uniform, along with the title “Commandant.” Father came home one night very... (full context)
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An hour before the Fury is scheduled to arrive, Gretel and Bruno are summoned to Father’s office, one of the rare occasions they are allowed inside. The children are both wearing... (full context)
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...takes their places. A small man and a taller woman appear in the doorway, and Father salutes them while Maria takes their coats. Bruno observes that the Fury is “far shorter”... (full context)
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...what a horrible man the Fury is. Later that night, Bruno eavesdrops on Mother and Father’s conversation in Father’s office. From snippets, he can hear Mother saying that she does not... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...in a zoo because he likes animals. Bruno says he will be a soldier like Father, but a good one, not mean like Lieutenant Kotler. Shmuel says there aren’t any good... (full context)
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...table, Bruno complains of learning history from Herr Liszt, because he would rather read. Angered, Father points his knife at Bruno and says that the family is in Out-With because they... (full context)
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...touch with his father since he left Germany in 1938, so he does not know. Father is startled that Kotler’s father left Germany, and seems concerned when Kotler says he believes... (full context)
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Father calls for Pavel to fill up his wine glass, and asks what is the matter... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...have some kind of embarrassing information on Bruno, but she warns him not to let Father know—he will think Bruno has gone mad. She flounces back to her room to rearrange... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...to dislike Kotler, because he calls him “little man” and makes Mother laugh more than Father does. One day Bruno sees a dog barking from his window, and Kotler comes outside... (full context)
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One day Bruno is reading Treasure Island in the living room, a book that Father gave him. Kotler pulls it away from him and taunts him, playing keep-away with the... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...attend the funeral of Grandmother, whom Bruno had not seen since their last Christmas pageant. Father is particularly sad, since he and his mother had not reconciled from their fight before... (full context)
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...that both Gretel and Bruno have lice. While Gretel’s hair is treated with special shampoo, Father decides that Bruno’s head should be shaven. Bruno hates the way he looks, but the... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...Out-With, especially since Kotler, her only friend, has been sent away. Bruno hears Mother and Father yelling in his office. He realizes there may be a chance for the family to... (full context)
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...with her maps, and Mother takes more naps and drinks more “medicinal sherries.” One day, Father summons Gretel and Bruno into his office, and asks them if they are happy at... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...that Mother spends most of her time crying, and Gretel, too, misses Bruno very much. Father stays at Out-With for a year, but orders around the soldiers mercilessly and becomes very... (full context)
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One day Father forms a theory about what happened to Bruno. He goes to the part of the... (full context)