Study Guide

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Violence

By John Boyne


The more [the children] were shouted at, the closer they huddled together, but then one of the soldiers lunged towards them and they separated […]. (4.195)

Bruno observes this scene from his window and mistakes it for a game. We're not sure about you, Shmoopers, but huddling together and being "lunged" at by men with guns sounds more frightening than fun to us…

"And afterwards, when you return to the kitchen, make sure you wash your hands before touching any of the food, you filthy—" (7.393)

There are many forms of violence, and this is a good example of verbal violence. Lieutenant Kotler is by far the most violent character in the book, and even though we don't know what word he uses to insult Pavel, we know that it's nasty.

[…] 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. (13.874)

Once again, Kotler proves his bad guy status and beats up Pavel after the poor guy accidentally spills wine on him. Because this is told from Bruno's point of view, we don't know why Bruno's parents stay silent, but we have a feeling it's due to the fact that it is a risk to defend Jews, no matter who you are.

Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretel grow pale.
(13. 874)

Here we see the children's reactions to Kotler's violent abuse of Pavel. As readers, we have to draw our own conclusions about what happens—does Kotler slap him? Beat him up? Shoot him? What do you think?

One afternoon Shmuel had a black eye, and when Bruno asked him about it he just shook his head and said that he didn't want to talk about it. (14. 878)

This is the first time we see the effects of concentration camp abuse, and it leaves a big impact on us because Shmuel is not a man, nor even a teenager—he's a nine-year-old boy. The fact that he doesn't complain or go into details about it reveals his maturity and stoicism—and also, perhaps, his fear and shame.

[…] he saw a dog approach the fence and start barking loudly, and when Lieutenant Kotler heard it he marched right over to the dog and shot it. (15.954)

Man, Kotler just gets worse and worse. So far he's beat up a man and a little kid, and now he murders a helpless animal. Definitely not the kind of guy we want to have over for dinner any time soon… or ever.

"Who told you that you were allowed to talk in this house? […] Do you dare to disobey me?" (15.1024)

Some more verbal violence from Kotler here, this time as he screams at Shmuel for talking to Bruno. Things go from bad to worse when Kotler discovers that Shmuel also ate food from the fridge. First it's screams, then it's fists.

There was a lot of bruising on his face and Bruno grimaced, and for a moment he forgot about his apology. (15.1045)

Unfortunately, Bruno's well-intentioned gesture of giving Shmuel food leads to a smack down from Kotler. When Bruno sees his friend's bruised face, he's not quite sure what to make of it, whereas for Shmuel it's just another part of concentration camp life.

"But that's alright because I hate them too. I hate them." (17.1191)

In a rare glimpse into the psyche of a Jewish prisoner, we can understand Shmuel's violent attitude toward the SS soldiers. And can we blame him for hating them when they're responsible for taking away his mother, father, grandfather, and life? Nope. Not at all.

And then the room went very dark and somehow, despite the chaos that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel's hand […]. (19.1313)

The final scene in Bruno and Shmuel's story is also one of the most symbolically violent in the novel. While they might not realize it, readers know that they are in a gas chamber and that they will be dead soon. Death is the ultimate violent act in this story, one that can never be righted.