The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The Fence Symbol Icon

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 Fence Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The The Boy in the Striped Pajamas quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Fence. 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 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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Chapter 15 Quotes

It was the first time they had ever touched.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

While Shmuel is in the house polishing the silverware, Bruno notes that, though the boys are the same height and age, Shmuel's hand is very different from his—the fingers are bony and shriveled, and his veins are visible through the thin skin. This is because Shmuel is starved and tortured on the other side of the Fence, while Bruno is well fed and taken care of in his home. The realization that this comparison of hands is the first time they have ever touched further informs Bruno of the divide between the two boys' lives. At the same time, this simple bit of contact is also a reminder of the boys' common humanity, despite the many boundaries placed between them.

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 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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The Fence Symbol Timeline in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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.
Chapter 4
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...inspection, she sees that the people live on the other side of a very high fence, with “huge wooden posts, like telegraph poles, dotted along it, holding it up.” The top... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
The two children notice a group of other children on the other side of the fence, huddled together and being shouted at by a soldier. They move in closer together the... (full context)
Chapter 8
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...thinks Out-With is and about the people he sees on the other side of the fence. He tells her that he misses her, and signs the letter, “your loving grandson, Bruno.” (full context)
Chapter 9
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
...and decides to investigate the grounds outside the house. He chooses to go explore the fence, even though he has been told it is off-limits. On his way to the fence,... (full context)
Chapter 10
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Bruno walks along the length of the fence for a long time. It feels as if the fence is several miles long, and... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...has not found anything yet, besides him. Bruno sits down on his side of the fence, and tells the boy that he lives in the house. The boy replies that he... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
...and Shmuel says sort of—there are a lot of boys on his side of the fence, but they fight a lot. This is why he has come to the fence, to... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...been on his mind: “Why are there so many people on that side of the fence, and what are you all doing there?” (full context)
Chapter 12
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Shmuel tells Bruno that there are hundreds of other people on his side of the fence, and Bruno says that that’s unfair—he has no one to play with on his side... (full context)
Chapter 13
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
...find a friend in Shmuel, and goes to sit and talk with him at the fence every day. Bruno starts to fill his pockets with food to bring to Shmuel, though... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
At the fence, Bruno finds Shmuel waiting for him. He gives Shmuel the food, and asks if he... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...tells Bruno that he doesn’t understand what it is like on his side of the fence. Bruno, trying to change the subject, asks Shmuel if he has any sisters. Shmuel says... (full context)
Chapter 14
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...his lessons end for the day, and he spends time talking to Shmuel through the fence until it is time for him to return home for dinner. One day Shmuel has... (full context)
Chapter 15
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...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)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...his hands used to look like Shmuel’s, but now everyone on his side of the fence looks like he does. (full context)
Chapter 16
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...her dolls. Bruno asks her why the people are on the other side of the fence, and she is shocked that he still doesn’t know. She explains that they are Jews,... (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
...children. Bruno responds that there are hundreds of children on the other side of the fence. Father demands to know what Bruno knows about them, but Bruno just replies that he... (full context)
Chapter 18
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
Shmuel does not show up at the fence for several days. Bruno is overjoyed when he finally does, but Shmuel seems very upset.... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
...could play together just once before they have to part, and Shmuel lifts up the fence—there is enough room for Bruno to crawl under. Bruno is afraid he will get in... (full context)
Chapter 19
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Though it is raining the next day, Bruno goes to meet Shmuel at the fence anyway. Bruno is unhappy to leave his clothes in the mud, but seeing the look... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
Bruno is shocked at the world on the other side of the fence. He thought it would be filled with happy families, but instead miserable, sickly people sit... (full context)
Chapter 20
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...every part of the house and the village, and his clothes are found at the fence, but it seems as if he has vanished off the face of the earth. Mother... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
...forms a theory about what happened to Bruno. He goes to the part of the fence where Bruno’s clothing was found, and when Father puts all the facts and his theories... (full context)