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
…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.
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.