The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Striped Pajamas Symbol Analysis

Striped Pajamas Symbol Icon

Bruno notices immediately that everyone behind the fence at Auschwitz is wearing what he sees as “striped pajamas.” Shmuel must wear them all the time, and they are what Bruno uses as a disguise when he sneaks into the camp with Shmuel. Bruno, as a nine-year-old boy with little to no understanding of what happens inside the camp, thinks the pajamas are some kind of comfortable clothing—when in fact they are prison uniforms meant to delineate the Jews in the camp from the German population at large. The striped pajamas thus represent an artificial branding of people to denote they are different from others. The Nazis engaged in this kind of branding in many ways—Jews were forced to wear the Star of David on their clothing, while the Nazi supporters themselves wore red armbands with black swastikas to show their allegiance to Hitler. Of course, such branding is ultimately superficial when it comes to life, death, and human dignity. Bruno tragically acts out this truth when he, the son of a Nazi Commandant, dies along with the Jews Father and Hitler hope to exterminate, simply because he looks like the rest of the tortured prisoners with his shaved head and dirty “striped pajamas.” The striped pajamas thus symbolize Bruno’s childish innocence about the world’s horrors, but also how dangerous divisions and artificial branding can be as a part of racist ideologies.

Striped Pajamas Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The The Boy in the Striped Pajamas quotes below all refer to the symbol of Striped Pajamas. 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 4 Quotes

…all of them—the small boys, the big boys, the fathers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the people who lived on their own on everybody’s road but didn’t seem to have any relatives at all—were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker)
Related Symbols: Striped Pajamas
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

After Bruno makes a passing remark about the "other children" outside the window, Gretel demands that he explain what he means. He points to the concentration camp outside the window, and Gretel is shocked by what she sees. Neither of the children has a concrete explanation as to who the people are, or why there are no women on the other side of the fence. 

The innocence of Bruno and Gretel leads them to characterize the men in the concentration camp in terms of familial relationships, such as "fathers" and "uncles." They do this because such relationships define how Bruno and Gretel know most of the adults in their lives. Though there appears to be no warmth between the people in the camp, the children have no better explanation for who they are or why they are all living together. They also apparently have no concept of what poverty is, or the fact that these people did not choose to live in the squalor of the camp. 

In Nazi-ruled Germany, clothing was an important marker of status: The Nazis wore swastika armbands, while Jews wore yellow stars indicating their religious and ethnic status. Thus, the "striped pajamas," really prison-issued uniforms, were meant to mark and demean the Jewish people as prisoners. That Bruno sees these clothes as pajamas further indicates his innocence and foreshadows how that innocence will allow him to see past those clothes to the people who wear them.

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Chapter 10 Quotes

Bruno was sure that he had never seen a skinnier or sadder boy in his life but decided that he had better talk to him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Related Symbols: Striped Pajamas, The Fence
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

One afternoon, Bruno decides that he will explore the grounds outside of the house. He walks for some time until he reaches the fence, where he encounters a boy sitting down. The boy is wearing the "striped pajamas" he has seen from his bedroom window, and he wears a yellow star on his chest. 

The boy is very thin and gaunt because he is starved and overworked by Nazi soldiers inside the fence. Bruno is shocked at the boy's physical and emotional state because he has lived in a very sheltered world, in which he has never encountered poverty, and he also seems to be keeping himself willfully ignorant about the suffering people he sees from his window. Yet Bruno also has the natural innocence and kindness of a child, as Boyne uses this extended analogy to show how hatred is learned, not instinctual—despite the fact that Bruno is a German child of Nazis, and the boy (Shmuel) is a Jewish prisoner, Bruno's first reaction is to try and make friends.

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Striped Pajamas Symbol Timeline in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The timeline below shows where the symbol Striped Pajamas appears in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...before: everyone, grandfathers and fathers and little boys, are all wearing “a pair of grey striped pajamas and a grey striped cap on their heads.” (full context)
Chapter 10
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...other, they say “Hello” to one another. Bruno notices that the boy is wearing the striped pajamas he has seen all of the people outside the window wearing, including a striped cap... (full context)
Chapter 14
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
One day Bruno asks Shmuel why he and everyone else only wear the striped pajamas . Shmuel says that that is what they were given to wear when they came... (full context)
Chapter 17
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...that he has observed them from his window, and has noticed that they all wear striped pajamas . Bruno says he has seen them, but has not been watching them. Father announces... (full context)
Chapter 18
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...will get in trouble, but he has an idea—Shmuel could bring Bruno a pair of striped pajamas that he could change into and slip under the fence the following day. With Bruno’s... (full context)
Chapter 19
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...Bruno realize that he must go through with the plan to please his friend. The striped pajamas are smelly, but he changes into them anyway. They remind Bruno of the costumes he... (full context)