The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Mother Character Analysis

Bruno’s mother is married to Father, a Commandant in the German army. Mother is very loving towards Gretel and Bruno, but becomes stern whenever they ask too many questions or complain about moving to “Out-With.” She refuses to speak with Bruno about the war, and says it is no topic for proper conversation. At Out-With, Mother develops a friendship (and likely an affair) with Lieutenant Kotler—seemingly an act of rebellion against Father, who essentially controls her life. Eventually, Mother convinces Father to let the family move back to Berlin, though she stays for a time to see if Bruno will return.

Mother Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The The Boy in the Striped Pajamas quotes below are all either spoken by Mother or refer to Mother . 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 13 Quotes

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."

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Mother Character Timeline in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The timeline below shows where the character Mother appears in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...through his belongings. He asks her to stop, but she just shakes her head. Bruno’s Mother comes in and explains that Maria is packing all of Bruno’s things. In the next... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Bruno races Mother down to the dining room. She tells him there is nothing to worry about, and... (full context)
Chapter 2
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Bruno tells Mother that he thinks moving was a bad idea, and she chastises him for saying such... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Complicity Theme Icon
...coming to take them away from the house. Bruno remembers that right before they left, Mother had stood in the living room and shook her head, saying to herself that they... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
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...other side of his desk, and steps around it to shake Bruno’s hand. Father, unlike Mother or Grandmother, is not affectionate. Father tells Bruno he is proud of him for helping... (full context)
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...family is. Bruno says his grandparents are back in Berlin, but Father says that having Mother and Gretel close by is more important. Bruno goes on to complain that his friends... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...Roller would have arguments with people who weren’t there, and would often punch a wall. Mother told him not to laugh at Herr Roller, since he was lovely as a young... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...decides it 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... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
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...him from the kitchen window, comes out and takes him inside. Bruno asks for his Mother, but Pavel says he is the only one in the house. Pavel patches up Bruno’s... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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Mother sees the bandage on Bruno’s knee, and he explains what happened with the tire swing.... (full context)
Chapter 8
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...butler as “Commandant,” after the Fury and a “beautiful blonde woman” had come for dinner. Mother told Bruno to congratulate Father, but he wasn’t sure what for. On Christmas day, Father... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
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...for surviving World War I and coming this far in his positions in the military. Mother comments that she thinks Father looks handsome, but Grandmother calls her foolish for thinking that... (full context)
Chapter 9
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...Lieutenant Kotler is a constant presence in the house, where he is either whispering with Mother or humoring Gretel as she tries to flirt with him. The servants keep the house... (full context)
Chapter 11
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...to the family that they were to cancel any plans for the upcoming Thursday evening. Mother replies that she has tickets to the theatre, but Father interrupts her to say that... (full context)
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...with “the respect and courtesy that such a great leader deserves.” Third, when Father and Mother are at the dinner table, the children are to remain in their rooms quietly. Bruno... (full context)
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...rude as to go sit in Father’s place at the head of the table. Flustered, Mother and Father follow the man to the table, while the woman stays and chats with... (full context)
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...While the Fury climbs into the car and begins to read a newspaper, Eva thanks Mother for a lovely evening. Bruno thinks about what a horrible man the Fury is. Later... (full context)
Chapter 12
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
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Nationalism  Theme Icon
...says he only ever had chocolate once, and Bruno says he loves it but that Mother tells him it will rot his teeth. Shmuel asks him if he has any bread,... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...with each passing day. He seems to shake from the weight of the plates, and Mother has to ask twice before he pours her another glass of wine. At the table,... (full context)
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...he enjoyed learning history as a boy, though his father was a professor of literature. Mother replies that she did not know that, and asks if he still teaches. Kotler says... (full context)
Chapter 15
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
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Gender Roles Theme Icon
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...the fence. Bruno continues 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,... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
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...the whole house has been preparing for days. They continue to taunt each other until Mother comes in. She calls him Kotler “Kurt” and “precious,” and tells Bruno to leave the... (full context)
Chapter 16
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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Nationalism  Theme Icon
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...reconciled from their fight before she died. The Fury delivers a wreath in condolence, but Mother says Grandmother would have rolled over in her grave if she had known. (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
...a friend. Lieutenant Kotler has been transferred away from Out-With, much to the dismay of Mother and Gretel and to the delight of Bruno. Gretel is now going through “a phase”... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
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...interrupts their conversation to shriek that she has found a tiny egg in her hair. Mother comes in and realizes that both Gretel and Bruno have lice. While Gretel’s hair is... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Mother becomes increasingly unhappy with life at Out-With, especially since Kotler, her only friend, has been... (full context)
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...goes on as usual for several weeks. Gretel becomes more obsessed with her maps, and Mother takes more naps and drinks more “medicinal sherries.” One day, Father summons Gretel and Bruno... (full context)
Chapter 20
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...fence, but it seems as if he has vanished off the face of the earth. Mother stays in Out-With for some time, hoping Bruno will turn up. When she does return... (full context)