The fence around the concentration camp is used to keep the prisoners in, and everyone else out and away from seeing the horrors that happen inside. Like the striped pajamas, however, it is of course an artificial distinction. Bruno and Shmuel, two children on opposite sides of the Holocaust, develop a touching friendship through the wire. Bruno is able to crawl under a hole in the fence, symbolic of how even a physical fence cannot become a barrier between children who don’t know yet how to hate or discriminate. Just like anyone can dress up in the “striped pajamas” and be mistaken for a Jew, or take them off and be a Nazi supporter, so the fence is symbolic of artificial barriers that can be set up in any part of the world, between any groups of people. Even those who seem to be securely on the “superior” side of the fence—like Kotler—can easily find themselves ostracized, as Kotler is demoted and transferred simply because his father was not a supporter of the Nazis. Once one fence is built, so are many more, as the “insiders” turn against each other in greed or paranoia, and set up new divisions about just who is allowed to be “inside.”
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Fence appears in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...next few weeks, and Shmuel and Bruno are able to have their conversations at the fence only sporadically. Bruno becomes concerned that his friend seems to grow thinner each day, and... (full context)