The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Innocence and Ignorance Theme Analysis

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Bruno, the main character of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is a nine-year-old boy who is the son of a German Commandant (Father) during World War II. Father has been rising in the ranks of the Nazi army, and Bruno has lived a sheltered life in Berlin with his Mother, sister Gretel, maid Maria, and butler Lars. The story, which is a fictional “fable” of the Holocaust, features Bruno as the narrator. Though he attends school, Bruno is mostly ignorant of the political situation at the time. He refers to Hitler, who visits their home with “a beautiful blond woman” (Eva Braun) for dinner, as “the Fury,” the young boy’s incorrect pronunciation for “the Führer.” When the family is moved to Auschwitz (which is only ever referred to as “Out-With” by Bruno, another mispronunciation), Bruno continues to be left in the dark as to why they had to leave Berlin to be near the camp full of people in “striped pajamas”—the Jews and other prisoners brought to the camp to work or be killed. Though Bruno and his sister Gretel, three years his elder, have a private tutor, Bruno has little to no idea as to what is going on in the camp, or in Germany as a whole. He thinks that Shmuel, the identically-aged Jewish boy whom he befriends through the fence to the concentration camp, lives there with his family voluntarily, and Bruno never understands exactly why Shmuel is there, or why he is so thin.

Bruno’s enduring innocence, and his sense that perhaps there are some questions best left unasked, is a prevailing theme throughout the novel. Bruno’s Mother and Father, as well as his sister Gretel, continually answer his questions about what is happening in Berlin and “Out-With” with overgeneralizations and euphemisms. When Bruno asks Gretel who the people on the other side of the fence are, she tells him that they are Jews, and are simply the “opposite” of what she and Bruno are. When he asks, over and over again, why the family must leave Berlin, his Mother tells him that Hitler has “big plans” for his father, but never explains what those plans are. The nature of what Bruno’s father is (a Commandant in the SS, and a director of the concentration camp Auschwitz) and why people are scared of him is never explained in the novel either. Presumably, Bruno is left in the dark about so much of what his family does and why they do it in order to preserve his innocence. However, this innocence is entirely based on ignorance, and it ultimately leads to his death.

Many critics have claimed that the novel is unrealistic and oversimplified in its portrayal of the Holocaust, but it mostly functions as a “fable”—almost an allegory. Thus Bruno’s ignorance of what is happening in Germany during the 1940s comes to represent the German soldiers and citizens who, for whatever reason, complied with, did not interfere with, or otherwise stopped themselves from even thinking about the realities of the Nazi Party’s actions. The innocence enforced on Bruno becomes a damning echo of the ignorance that so many others enforced on themselves.

Innocence and Ignorance ThemeTracker

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Innocence and Ignorance Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Below you will find the important quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas related to the theme of Innocence and Ignorance .
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.

He put his face to the glass and saw what was out there, and this time when his eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O, his hands stayed by his sides because something made him feel very cold and unsafe.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

At his mother's command, Bruno goes to his new bedroom in the family's house at Auschwitz and begins to unpack his things. Upset at the prospect of this new unwanted life far away from his former home in Berlin, Bruno attempts not to cry by looking out a window that vaguely reminds him of one that was in their old house. He hopes to be able to see faraway Berlin, but instead sees the concentration camp Auschwitz, which he comes to incorrectly pronounce as "Out-With." 

The sight of the people inside the fence, imprisoned from the outside world—despite the fact that he has no idea that they are Jews rounded up to be eventually exterminated by the Nazis—gives him an unsettled feeling. That this little boy, who has no idea what is actually going on in the concentration camp, has the feeling that what is going on in the camp is wrong serves as a condemnation of the people of Nazi Germany, many of whom did know what was going on in the concentration camps, and still followed orders and avoided asking questions. At the same time, Bruno's initial horror at this sight also calls into question just how "innocent" he himself is during the rest of the story—part of his ignorance may be willful.

Chapter 3 Quotes

“But what does it mean?” he asked in exasperation. “Out with what?”
“Out with the people who lived here before us, I expect,” said Gretel. “It must have to do with the fact that he didn’t do a very good job and someone said out with him and let’s get a man in who can do it right.”
“You mean Father.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: Out-With
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno had many friends to play with back in Berlin, but in Auschwitz, he and Gretel only have each other. Though they don't often get along, the one thing the siblings do agree upon is the fact that they miss their old home.

Like Bruno, Gretel is sheltered from the true facts of their father's job. However, being three years older than him, she has a better grasp as to what brought the family to Auschwitz (even though her broader understanding is still limited, as she believes Auschwitz is the name of their new house rather than the camp around it). While she cannot pronounce the name correctly and calls it "Out-With" like Bruno does, she understands that the relocation has something to do with a perceived superiority of one group of people over another. 

Unlike Bruno, Gretel more readily accepts Father's orders. She senses that there is something unpleasant about the nature of Auschwitz, but rather than questioning it, she fully believes that Father has been appointed to fix a pressing problem. Boyne shapes the character of Gretel to represent the Nazi Youth culture that pervaded Germany during this time period, in which young and impressionable children became indoctrinated with the values of the Nazi party and were trained to spread its message without question. 

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.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ah, those people,” said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. “Those people…well, they’re not people at all, Bruno.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of bravery, Bruno enters Father's office, which is usually off-limits, to confront his father about his unhappiness at Auschwitz. Though Father repeats what Mother and Maria have already told Bruno—that he must accept their new life away from Berlin—Bruno refuses. Angered, Father orders his son to go to his room. Before he goes, however, Bruno asks Father about the boys and men living on the other side of the fence. 

As a high-ranking Nazi official, Bruno's father subscribes to and perpetuates the anti-Semitic views held by Hitler and his followers. Supported by pseudoscience, much of the Nazi Party's rhetoric and self-conception rested on the claim that Jews and other minorities were less than human, and inferior to the blond-haired, blue-eyed "Aryan" image the party favored. In his new role as a director of the camp, Father is instrumental in overseeing the systematic torture and murder of the boys and men who are wearing what Bruno innocently sees as "striped pajamas." Here Father seems to confidently justify his actions—after all, if those being murdered aren't really human, then it isn't really murder. In this quote, Boyne also includes the image of Father's slight smile to underscore how key coordinators of the Holocaust, such as Father and Hitler, truly believed that their unspeakable actions were justified, and that those who did not agree were silly (much as Father seems to think Bruno's questions are silly). 

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Bruno, if you have any sense at all, you will stay quiet and concentrate on your schoolwork and do whatever your father tells you. We must all just keep ourselves safe until this is all over. That’s what I intend to do anyway. What more can we do than that after all? It’s not up to us to change things.”

Related Characters: Maria (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After a few days at Auschwitz, Bruno encounters Maria and asks her how she feels about the family's move. Maria avoids any chance Bruno gives her to speak ill of his Mother and Father, and instead tells him that he must follow his parents' wishes. Bruno goes on to complain that his father has made a "terrible mistake" in moving the family.

In this quote, Maria tells Bruno that he is not allowed to constantly state how he feels. As a young child who is still figuring out the world and his social situation, Bruno has difficulty with processing and containing his emotions. (Furthermore, he is rather rich and spoiled, and so is used to getting his way when he complains.) Maria, who is better versed in the political and social situation in Germany, knows that one wrong, overheard sentence can have someone thrown in jail, or worse. As a maid, her livelihood is at the mercy of Mother and Father—she is not only a woman, but also a social inferior to the Nazi couple. If she were to be found speaking ill of the family, or found to have encouraged any such thoughts in Bruno, Maria could potentially be fired or more harshly punished.

While Maria's fearful silence seems totally justified, it also means that she becomes unwillingly complicit in the crimes that her employer (Father) is perpetrating. She would endanger herself if she spoke out, but she endangers many more by remaining silent. This shows the very difficult choices that faced everyone in Nazi Germany—except for those who could still remain as ignorant and innocent as Bruno.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“Young man,” said Pavel (and Bruno appreciated the fact that he had the courtesy to call him ‘young man’ instead of ‘little man’ as Lieutenant Kotler had), “I certainly am a doctor. Just because a man glances up at the sky at night does not make him an astronomer, you know.”

Related Characters: Pavel (speaker), Bruno, Lieutenant Kotler
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In an effort to defeat his boredom, Bruno creates a swing out of an old tire and a tree just outside the house. He soon falls, and hurts himself. Pavel, one of the new butlers at Auschwitz, runs out of the kitchen and takes the injured boy inside to clean up his scrapes. Bruno insists he must be taken to a doctor, but Pavel tells him he will be just fine with the bandage he has made. Bruno argues that Pavel cannot know this since he is not a doctor, and Pavel says he used to be one.

As a prisoner of the Nazis, Pavel has been captured from his home and career as a doctor to serve Father, his family, and the Nazi soldiers that visit. Able bodied Jewish men and women from every profession were forced to work in labor camps; the young, old, and those who could not work were often immediately killed. Boyne once again emphasize's Bruno's innocence by showing that he has no understanding as to why someone who is trained as a doctor would peel his vegetables and serve dinner. Bruno has been taught that the prisoners at Auschwitz are "not people at all," but this idea doesn't seem to fit with what Bruno now learns about the intelligent, friendly Pavel.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Herr Liszt made a hissing sound through his teeth and shook his head angrily. “Then this is what I am here to change,” he said in a sinister voice. “To get your head out of your storybooks and teach you more about where you come from. About the great wrongs that have been done to you.”

Related Characters: Herr Liszt (speaker), Bruno
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Herr Liszt is a tutor hired to oversee Bruno and Gretel's education while living in Auschwitz. Herr Liszt is particularly fond of teaching the children about the history of Germany. He tells Bruno that he wants to teach him of the "great wrongs" that have been done to the German people throughout history.

Herr Liszt is hired by Mother and Father because he subscribes to the same anti-Semitic notions held by the Nazi Party, and can help indoctrinate Bruno and his sister into Nazi ideology. Bruno is still young and innocent, so if he learns propaganda as history, then he will internalize it as truth—and thus see his father's work as justified and righteous. The idea of the German people as victims of wicked lesser races and countries was crucial to the philosophy of Nazism and the rise of German nationalism before and during WWII. If people saw themselves as the victims of corrupting outside influences (like Jews and Romani people), it was easier to hate non-Germans, dehumanize them, and remain silent and complicit as atrocities were perpetrated against them.

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.

“Poland,” said Bruno thoughtfully, weighing up the word on his tongue. “That’s not as good as Germany, is it?”
Shmuel frowned. “Why isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, because Germany is the greatest of all countries,” Bruno replied, remembering something that he had overheard Father discussing with Grandfather on any number of occasions. “We’re superior.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father , Grandfather
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

The boy on the other side of the fence tells Bruno his name is Shmuel, and that he is from Poland. In this quote, Bruno repeats what Father and Grandfather have said about Germany being a separate and "superior" nation compared to others. 

Bruno believes that Germany is a superior nation only due to what he has heard his elders say, and not due to a personally held belief (or any kind of truth he has experienced). This system of indoctrination is how the Nazi party cultivated a younger generation of nationalistic party supporters. It is also indicative of the role that parents, in any society, play in shaping their children's beliefs. Here, Boyne shows that prejudices are often passed from one generation to the next, so that when a boy such as Bruno grows up, he continues to believe that Germans are superior and cultivates a disdain for other cultures. It is this dangerous cycle that fed into the widespread Nationalism and anti-Semitism of World War II. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

What a horrible man, thought Bruno.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Fury
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno thinks back to the night that The Fury (his mispronunciation of Führer, the title that Hitler assumed when he rose to power) visited the family's home in Berlin for dinner. Bruno is very taken with Hitler's his companion, Eva Braun, but he finds Hitler to be very rude. The reason for Hitler's visit is to offer Father the job at Auschwitz, so Bruno associates this night with being taken away from his beloved home in Berlin. 

Bruno's parents parade Bruno and Gretel out to greet Eva and Hitler when they arrive. It is very important to show Hitler that the family is obedient, traditional, and in line with Nazi values. Bruno is used to being addressed and treated with relative respect by the other older men in his life (Father and Grandfather) and is very off-put by Hitler's dismissiveness. Eva is kind to the children, and Bruno is then personally offended when Hitler is rude to her as well. The fact that Bruno does not know exactly who Hitler is, or what his relationship is to the government of Germany, shows how (almost impossibly) sheltered and innocent his world in Berlin is. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

Shmuel looked very sad when he told this story and Bruno didn’t know why; it didn’t seem like such a terrible thing to him, and after all much the same thing had happened to him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno continues to visit Shmuel along the Fence every day. Shmuel tells Bruno of how he arrived at Auschwitz from his home in Cracow. First, he and his family were forced to wear armbands with the Star of David, indicating that they were Jews. One day, they were told they were not allowed to live in their home anymore, and had to move to a small apartment with many other families. They were then herded onto a train and brought to the camp, where Shmuel's mother was separated from Shmuel, his brother, father, and grandfather. 

As Shmuel tells the story, Bruno keeps thinking that the same thing happened to him—that he too boarded a train and lost his home due to the Fury. In this sense, Bruno can relate to Shmuel's upset at having left his home, but Bruno's privilege and ignorance also means that he cannot comprehend the horrors that Shmuel encounters behind the fence. To Bruno the two boys' situations seem similar, but we as readers know that they couldn't be more different. Here Boyne suggests the inability of an outsider to ever truly empathize and understand the plights of another person—Bruno considers Shmuel his friend, but he doesn't really understand Shmuel at all.

“Dinner isn’t served until half past six. What time do you have yours?”
Shmuel shrugged his shoulders and pulled himself to his feet. “I think I’d better get back,” he said.
“Perhaps you can come to dinner with us one evening,” said Bruno, although he wasn’t sure it was a very good idea.
“Perhaps,” said Shmuel, although he didn’t sound convinced.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

When Bruno visits Shmuel, it is in the lazy afternoon hours between his morning lessons and dinnertime. The boys can spend long stretches of time talking, but Bruno must return to the house before anyone notices he has been gone.

Bruno constantly discusses food in front of Shmuel, not realizing that Shmuel receives very little food on his side of the Fence, if any at all. Inside concentration camps, prisoners lived in squalor and faced constant starvation. Bruno does not understand that Shmuel does not have a "dinner time" inside the Fence, and seemingly doesn't understand that Shmuel cannot leave the Fence at all, much less come to Bruno's house. Though Bruno does not understand the underlying reasons for this, he does have a premonition that he has made an offer to Shmuel that neither of them will realistically be able to act upon. This again casts into doubt just how "innocent" Bruno still is regarding the true nature of Auschwitz.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“There aren’t any good soldiers,” said Shmuel.
“Of course there are,” said Bruno.
“Well, Father, for one,” said Bruno. “That’s why he has such an impressive uniform and why everyone calls him Commandant and does whatever he says. The Fury has big things in mind for him because he’s such a good soldier.”
“There aren’t any good soldiers,” repeated Shmuel.
“Except Father,” repeated Bruno, who was hoping that Shmuel wouldn’t say that again because he didn’t want to have to argue with him. After all, he was the only friend he had here at Out-With. But Father was Father, and Bruno didn’t think it was right for someone to say something bad about him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: The Fury
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

One day at the Fence, Bruno and Shmuel discuss what they want to be when they grow up. Shmuel notes that he wants to work in a zoo, while Bruno says he wants to become a soldier like Father. In this quote, Shmuel counters Bruno to claim that there are no good soldiers, and Bruno refutes his statement out of respect for his father.

As a prisoner in a concentration camp, Shmuel has no reason to believe that there are any good soldiers in the world. The only soldiers he has encountered are ones that taunt and torture him and the other prisoners in the camp. Even Bruno understands that someone like Lieutenant Kotler has a sadistic side, and thinks that he would not want to be that kind of soldier, but he defends Father by default, as he does not understand that Father's true role in Shmuel's suffering. This again shows Bruno parroting the ideology he has been taught, as even in his relative innocence he still places country and family over his new friendship with Shmuel.

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 15 Quotes

“What are you doing here?” repeated Bruno, for although he still didn’t quite understand what took place on the other side of the fence, there was something about the people from there that made him think they shouldn’t be here in his house.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

On Father's birthday, the whole house is busy preparing for a party. Bruno walks into the kitchen and is shocked to see Shmuel there. Shmuel tells Bruno that Lieutenant Kotler brought him into the house to polish the smaller glasses and silverware because he has tiny fingers. 

Though Bruno still does not know the true reason why Shmuel lives on one side of the Fence and he lives on the other, Bruno has a sense that someone like Shmuel is not normally welcomed into their home. Like Pavel, Shmuel is only welcomed into the house to perform tasks commanded of him by Nazi officials. Just as when he almost tells Gretel of his friendship with Shmuel, here Bruno somehow knows that he should not let his family know the truth. This understanding shows that, while he enjoys his time with Shmuel, Bruno is also subconsciously retaining some of the disdain that Kotler and Father show for the people on the other side of the Fence. Even an idealized friendship between young children is already affected by outside prejudices and beliefs, and Bruno isn't as innocent as he seems (or seems to want to be). 

Chapter 16 Quotes

“I’m asking you, if we’re not Jews, what were we instead?”
“We’re the opposite,” said Gretel, answering quickly and sounding a lot more satisfied with this answer. “Yes, that’s it. We’re the opposite.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bruno and Gretel continue to study with Herr Liszt and live at Auschwitz, Gretel becomes more and more interested in Nazi ideals and the progression of the war. Instead of arranging her dolls every day, she instead moves around pushpins on a map Father gave her, in an attempt to track the movement of armies. Bruno goes to her one day to ask her about the people who live on the other side of the Fence. Gretel tells him that they are Jews, but she is unsure as to who exactly she and Bruno by comparison. In this quote, she settles on the idea that whatever she and Bruno are is the "opposite" of what Jews are.

Gretel also tells Bruno that the "opposite" don't like Jews, and that they must live on different sides of the Fence. Though no one specifically told Bruno this before he asked, his feelings about not telling his family about Shmuel indicate that he had some premonition that the division created by the Fence served some greater purpose. Neither Bruno nor Gretel understands exactly what the word "Jew" means, but Gretel does understand that as a German, she is supposed to feel disdain for this group of people. This kind of senseless indoctrination is how the Nazi party raised young supporters—they didn't have to have facts or reasoning to back up their propaganda. Boyne uses this instance to represent how hatred was spread between the generations without proper understanding of what its implications were. 

“I look just like you now,” said Bruno sadly, as if this was a terrible thing to admit.
“Only fatter,” admitted Shmuel.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Gretel discovers a tiny egg in her hair, and Mother soon realizes that both of the children have head lice. While Gretel is treated with a special shampoo, Father decides that Bruno should shave his head. When Bruno and Shmuel meet at the Fence, they realize that with two shaved heads, they look more similar than usual. 

Both boys are conscious of the fact that Bruno is fatter and more well-nourished than Shmuel, though only Shmuel fully comprehends the reasoning behind this. Bruno understands that Shmuel looks sickly, and Bruno also has absorbed the belief that as a person on the other side of the Fence, Shmuel is somehow divided from and inferior to him, so here Bruno feels "sad" about this new resemblance. Previously in the novel, the two boys also discover that they have the same birthday. Boyne continues to create similarities between the two boys in order to highlight their most pressing difference: that Shmuel is being starved and tortured behind the Fence, whereas Bruno lives in comfort. By continuing to illustrate how well the two boys get along, and to show that they are more similar than they are different, Boyne shows how the prejudices against Jews (which had been present in Europe for centuries) were exacerbated by the Nazi party in order to use the group as a scapegoat for all of Germany's problems. Just like Gretel's inability to name what a "Jew" or an "Opposite" is, this hatred was senseless. 

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 18 Quotes

Shmuel bit his lip and said nothing. He had seen Bruno’s father on any number of occasions and couldn’t understand how such a man could have a son who was so friendly and kind.

Related Characters: Shmuel (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

Shmuel remarks to Bruno that he hates soldiers, since he knows that they hate him and the rest of the prisoners on his side of the Fence. Bruno, confused, asks him if he hates his Father. Shmuel wants to say yes, but holds back his answer. In this quote, he wonders how Bruno could be so kind when his Father is so cruel. 

Bruno, meanwhile, seems unwilling to accept that his Father is directly in charge of the misery that Shmuel faces every day. Bruno remains very naive and ignorant, but the more he learns the more uncomfortable he grows with the truth of his and Shmuel's situation. Here Boyne also makes his usual point about the inherent innocence of children, as the division between Father and Bruno represents the idea that hatred is not instinctive, or naturally divided along racial or national lines, but rather that it must be taught. Boyne contrasts Bruno and Father to show that it is possible for a younger generation to fix the toxic and prejudiced views of its elders. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

After searching around the camp for over an hour, Bruno and Shmuel fail to find Shmuel's father. Suddenly, the soldiers blow whistles indicating that the prisoners must begin to march. Bruno wants to leave, but Shmuel tells him the soldiers will become angry if they don't follow orders. The boys end up inside of a metal room with many other people. Bruno is not sure why the soldiers put everyone inside the room, but holding Shmuel's hand gives him comfort. 

In Nazi concentration camp, Jews and other minority groups were systematically murdered in gas chambers. It is into one of these chambers that the Nazi soldiers led Bruno and Shmuel. Though Bruno's parents intentionally did not tell him what the camp was for due to his young age, it is in this moment that his naïveté has proven fatal. Holding hands, Shmuel and Bruno die together in the gas chamber, and Bruno seemingly never really learns the truth about the situation. The image of a German boy and a Jewish boy holding hands in a Nazi gas chamber is a symbol of love and innocence in the face of evil. Boyne uses this tragic ending to show both the dangers of ignorance and of senseless prejudices and hatred in society. 

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.