full title The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Fable
author John Boyne
type of work Novel
genre Historical fiction; Holocaust fiction
time and place written April 2004–May 2005; Dublin, Ireland
date of first publication January 5, 2006
publisher David Fickling Books
narrator An anonymous narrator tells the story and refers to the characters using third-person pronouns like “he” and “she.”
point of view The novel has a childlike point of view. The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of the novel’s protagonist, Bruno, and his perspective dominates the tale. As a nine-year-old boy, Bruno frequently misunderstands the adult world around him. For instance, he doesn’t comprehend the nature or purpose of the concentration camp over which his father presides. He also mishears the camp’s name, misunderstanding “Auschwitz” as “Out-With.”
tone Fable-like yet foreboding. As a young child, Bruno understands little of what’s going on around him. Because of this, the novel has a fable-like tone in which Bruno sees everything as an adventure. Yet, as Bruno slowly learns more about the desolate realities of the camp, the tone of the novel grows increasingly foreboding.
setting (time) 1943
setting (place) Berlin, Germany, and the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland
protagonist Bruno, a nine-year-old German boy
major conflict The novel’s major conflict arises when Bruno’s family is forced to move from their home in Berlin to a desolate place in Poland. Isolated, friendless, and far away from the familiar comforts of home, Bruno rails against the injustice of his situation. He also feels confused about the people in the striped pajamas he can see from his bedroom window, living on the other side of a tall fence.
rising action Bruno adjusts to his new life in Poland and slowly learns more about “Out-With” Camp, for which his father serves as commandant. Bruno grows to detest the cruelty and patronizing behavior of German soldiers like Lieutenant Kotler, and he develops empathy for those with less power, including his family’s housekeeper, Maria, and a Jewish prisoner named Pavel, who helps prepare and serve the dinner meal. Bruno also befriends Shmuel, a boy from the other side of the fence whom he meets one day while out exploring. The two boys meet frequently and tell each other their life stories. They finally make a plan to disguise Bruno in striped pajamas and search together for Shmuel’s missing father.
climax On a rainy day, Bruno changes into striped pajamas provided by Shmuel and crawls under the fence into Out-With Camp. After a failed search, the boys are herded into a gas chamber with a large group of prisoners.
falling action Bruno never returns home, and his parents search for him in vain. Mother and Gretel depart for Berlin, and Father remains at Out-With. He pieces together that Bruno likely perished inside the camp and is overcome by grief. He is ultimately removed from duty.
themes Self-Honesty; The Guilt Caused by Silence; The Power of Friendship
motifs Doubling; the great wrongs of history; adventure stories
symbols The fence; striped pajamas; mispronunciations
foreshadowing Bruno’s observation that the train across the platform appears too crowded foreshadows Shmuel’s recollection of the crowded prisoner train that transferred him and his family to Out-With Camp. Lieutenant Kotler’s revelation that his father escaped Germany in 1938 foreshadows his sudden disappearance from Out-With Camp. The fact that Bruno and Shmuel share the same birthday foreshadows their shared fate in the gas chamber.