Study Guide

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Family

By John Boyne


[…] [Bruno's] mother had always told him that he was to treat Maria respectfully and not just imitate the way Father spoke to her. (1.2)

Here we have a perfect example of where Bruno's gets his values. Politeness may seem like a small thing, but it can make all the difference in making someone feel appreciated or not. Or, you know, human.

<em></em>"Some people make all the decisions for us." (2.64)

"Some people" is Bruno's mother's code for Bruno's dad, a.k.a. her husband, as she expresses her displeasure in the move away from Berlin. The powerlessness she feels is demonstrated in her inability/refusal to refer to him directly—even when the guy's not in the room, he runs the show. Although, perhaps, by "some people" she really means Hitler…

Father was not usually the type of man to give anyone a hug, unlike Mother and Grandmother, who gave them a little too often for comfort […]. (5.232)

Ah, good old machismo. Then again, Father's lack of mushy-gushiness could be due to his profession as a commandant and Nazi. For him, showing love could be seen as a sign of weakness, something the Nazis definitely don't admire.

"A home is not a building or a street or a city or something so artificial as bricks and mortar a home is where one's family is, isn't that right?" (5.246)

Bruno's father asks him this poignant question when Bruno says that he wants to leave their new house and go back to Berlin. Thing is, though, Bruno's father is hardly ever at home, his mother's often unconscious, and Gretel wants nothing to do with her little brother. So, yeah—not the strongest argument in defense of the Auschwitz house, Dad.

"And I have listened to what you have to say, even though your youth and inexperience force you to phrase things in an insolent manner." (5. 274)

After Bruno pleads his case for leaving Auschwitz, his dad reacts to him as if he were just another soldier. Guess he's not too sympathetic to the fact that his son is nine and has no other children to play with. Parents just don't understand…

"You're part of the family, aren't you?" (6.303)

Bruno asks Maria this after she refuses to give her opinion about the move to Auschwitz. It's a pretty empathetic statement to come from a kid—he doesn't view the maid as merely a worker or a servant, but instead sees her as a person who forms part of his family unit.

The two people Bruno missed most of all from home were Grandfather and Grandmother. (8.456)

We're not sure why Bruno's grandparents stay in Berlin, but we're guessing it has something to do with the fact that his grandmother is totally against what her son does for a living. Having them remain in Berlin adds even another layer of loneliness to Bruno's life, and further fragments his family.

"Mama is a teacher in my school and she taught me German […] she speaks French too. And Italian. And English." (10.588)

Shmuel shares this information about his mother with Bruno and it serves as a great contrast to Bruno's mother. Shmuel's mother is (was?) very involved in his life and preoccupied for his education, whereas Bruno's mother doesn't seem particularly concerned. Maybe it's all those medicinal Sherries?

"And yesterday [Shmuel] told me that his grandfather hasn't been seen for days […] and whenever he asks his father about him he starts crying and hugs him so hard that he's worried he's going to squeeze him to death." (14.934)

When Bruno shares this with Gretel, he lies and tells her that Shmuel is an imaginary friend. This shows his lack of confidence in his family members; even at the age of nine, Bruno knows to keep important things secret from them.

"I'd prefer for all of us to stay together." (17. 1154)

When Bruno's father asks whether the children want to go back to Berlin, Bruno gives this surprising answer. After all the complaining, he's actually happy where he is, the main reason being that now he's got Shmuel in his life. Blood, it seems, isn't always thicker than water.