From the very beginning of <em>The Boy in the Striped Pajamas</em>, there's a sense of fragmentation and isolation in Bruno's family. He comes home to find his things being packed by the maid, Maria, and his father's in Auschwitz before we even finish the first page. Once they move to the new house, his parents and Gretel more or less fade into the background—we get the sense that Bruno is on his own. A lot. If his father isn't at the concentration camp, he's in his office, and his mom's often napping or taking medicinal Sherries. And Gretel? Only dolls and maps for her, so buzz off. No wonder Bruno longs for a friend.
Bruno's family is to blame for what happens to him in Auschwitz. If they weren't so closed off to him—and if they were more willing to answer his questions—he never would have gone under the fence.
In this book, family only hurts you—they either aren't there when you need them, or they get taken from you and leave you heartbroken.
In Bruno's family, lies and deception are why he doesn't know what's going on around him. When he asks his mom why they're moving, for instance, she just says it's for his dad's "important" job. When he asks who the people in the striped pajamas are, his father says they're "not people." Way to be super cryptic, you two. In the end, all the lies lead to Bruno lying about where he goes and what he does in his free time—so while we can't be totally sure, it seems possible that with more transparency in his family, Bruno might have met a different end in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, all the lies told to Bruno do him more harm than good. Lying doesn't protect him at all.
Bruno wouldn't have been any better off if his parents had told him the truth—the horrors of the Holocaust are incomprehensible to a child, without firsthand experience.
Even though the subject is hardly talked about in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, race is everywhere in this book since it was a major player in the Holocaust—though there were many others, Jewish people were a primary target for the Nazis. In our story, the defining difference between Bruno and Shmuel is that Shmuel is Jewish.
Although Bruno doesn't realize that the people on the other side of the fence are Jews until close to the end of the novel, he's grown-up hearing propaganda about Germany being the best. How could he not with a Nazi commandant as a father and slews of soldiers always hanging around? This is a kid who's literally had Hitler in his house.
Bruno disguising himself as a Jewish prisoner and getting killed shows how arbitrary prejudice is.
That Bruno and Shmuel don't talk about race shows that its value is learned instead of innate.
In general, violence in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is like the elephant in the room—we know it's there, but it's never talked about. We think this is because the book is seen through the eyes of Bruno, a young kid who can't quite comprehend what's going on around him. There are a few instances of public displays of violence and evidence of abuse by Nazis against Jews—specifically against Shmuel and Pavel—but if you know just a bit about the Holocaust, then you know that what isn't shown is way worse.
For such a young boy, Bruno has an impressively strong and sound sense of morality and ethics in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. We don't think it comes from his father (a Nazi), so we can only assume he gets it from the female figures in his life (his mother and grandmother). Bruno, unlike many Nazis, does not view anyone else in his life as less or subhuman. That includes the help—Maria and Pavel—and of course Shmuel, who is Jewish. Bruno is more interested in bonds than differences, and looks for loyalty, trust, and kindness in people—qualities found in any good human being, no matter their race or class.
Of all the characters, Bruno and his grandmother have the highest level of morality and ethics.
Gretel is an example of a child with a corrupt sense of morals.
When Bruno is forced to leave Berlin in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, one of his main complaints is that he also has to leave his three best friends. To make matters worse, when he gets to the new house in Auschwitz, there are no other families or children around. Ugh—so long, social life. When he meets Shmuel, though, a kid on the other side of the fence, it's the beginning of a beautiful—albeit short-lived—friendship.
Despite their many differences, these two form a bond that transcends race, and even fences—so much so, that when asked if he still wants to go back to Berlin, Bruno confidently says no. In a world governed by hatred, Bruno and Shmuel show that friendship can thrive even in darkness.
If it weren't for the Holocaust, Bruno and Shmuel wouldn't be friends.
Both Bruno and Shmuel need friendship to distract themselves from their loneliness.
Perhaps surprisingly, in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, freedom and confinement apply to Shmuel and Bruno. Both are in places they were forced to go to, and both can't leave. Of course the gigantic difference is that Shmuel is in a concentration camp and Bruno is in a house. Shmuel is drastically confined—first to his house, then to a shared room, then a train, and eventually in Auschwitz. Bruno, however, has the freedom to walk out of his house when he wants and does not fear for his life.
In their confinement, though, both boys struggle with loneliness. And in the unlikely friendship they form, they both find a bit of freedom from their isolation. Now if you'll excuse us, someone must be cutting onions in the vicinity.
Bruno and Shmuel's confinements are ultimately too different to be considered comparable.
Having Bruno as a friend is a way for Shmuel to mentally escape Auschwitz and attain a sort of freedom.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is set during World War II, primarily right next to Auschwitz, one of the biggest concentration camps in the Holocaust. And yet, when it comes to Bruno, our main character, there's only one instance in which he confront mortality: when his grandmother dies.
While warfare isn't particularly visible on Bruno's side of the fence, on Shmuel's side, it's a totally different story. Shmuel's mother's "taken away," his grandfather "disappears," and then one day, his father doesn't come back from work. When your entire people are systematically under attack, it's safe to say that war is being waged against you—which is exactly the case for Shmuel and the other prisoners held in Auschwitz.
By omitting gory details about warfare and the Holocaust, Boyne downplays the importance of the event.
In this book, apathy is violence in its own right.