Study Guide

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Morality and Ethics

By John Boyne

Morality and Ethics

Bruno didn't like to admit that he was a little scared of her, but if he was honest with himself—which he always tried to be—he would have admitted that he was. (3.97)

Honesty is a really big deal for Bruno. Of course, he's not perfect and lies about his Jewish friend, Shmuel, (he tells Gretel he's imaginary) and he lies again when Kotler asks if he knows Shmuel. Okay, but besides those two times he's an honest guy…

"Well they don't," said Bruno, not wishing to judge [the children] before he met them but going by appearances, which Mother had told him time and time again not to do. (3.146)

Ah, so some of his sense of morality comes from his mother. But wait a second… isn't she the one married to an SS commandant? And isn't she living super close to a concentration camp, where people are being killed every single day as a result of judging people superficially? We think she might want to reassess her priorities… But at least she talks the talk to her kid.

"I wonder if you are being brave […] rather than merely disrespectful. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing." (5.272)

Here, Bruno's father calls him out for complaining about the new house. Ethically speaking, is it better to state your feelings and be disrespectful, or is better to stay quiet and be respectful? When it comes to the Holocaust, we're inclined to go with the first option.

<em></em>"We must just keep ourselves safe until this is all over. That's what I intend to do anyway. What more can we do after all?" (6.344)

Ah, good old complacency—Maria says this to Bruno, and what a fine example she sets. Not. She's basically telling Bruno that they're powerless and that whatever happens happens. Why stick out your neck for someone else if it'll put you in danger? Then again, why do anything at all if there's no such thing as empathy?

"It's not up to us to change things." (6.344)

Um, okay Maria, then who is it up to? Hitler? God? The Pope? At some point or another, there's always a choice between action and inaction. Maria (and many people who weren't Jewish) chooses to do nothing while the Holocaust takes place.

"Standing there in your uniform […] as if it makes you something special. Not even caring what it means. What it stands for." (8.471)

Grandma is a sympathizer with the Jews? Oh, say it ain't so. Out of all the adult characters in the book, she's the most outspoken and brave in the face of Hitler and the Nazis. Unfortunately, she dies soon after Bruno moves to Auschwitz with his family—there goes that positive influence.

"Ashamed!" she called out before she left. "That a son of mine should be—"

"A patriot," cried Father, who perhaps had never learned the rule about not interrupting your mother. (8.489)

This is what Bruno's father claims to be, showing where his morality and loyalty lies—anything for the good of Germany and the Aryan race. Ugh.

And were they really so different? (9.515)

Bruno thinks this while looking out his window at the concentration camp. His sense of morality and ethics shine through in his inability to understand what makes the people on the other side of the fence different from himself or anyone else. Underneath the pajamas, they're all just human.

"… as if it's the most natural thing in the world and it's not, it's just not…" (12.683)

Here we get a rare insight into how Bruno's mother actually feels about the situation as she argues with his father behind closed doors. We can infer that she thinks it's not right or natural for the Nazis to eliminate the Jews, but she never says so in front of the children.

"There aren't any good soldiers." (13.804)

When Shmuel says this to Bruno, he's taken aback—after all, his father is a soldier and he's pretty convinced he's not a bad guy. Then again, the Jewish experience with soldiers versus the German experience is like comparing chocolate to rotten meat.