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
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.
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.”
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.