This study guide will help you analyze the novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. You can also find a summary of the text, detailed characterizations, as well as inspiration for interpreting the novel and putting it into perspective.
John Boyne, born in 1971, is a renowned Irish author who has penned novels for both adult and young readers. His notable works include The Thief of Time (2000), The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006), and A Traveller at the Gate of Wisdom (2020). His books have been translated into more than 50 languages.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne provides a distinct interpretation of its subject matter. Boyne's protagonist, Bruno, the son of a Nazi commandant, grows up in a world influenced by Nazism that he cannot comprehend.
John Boyne's novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, narrates the tale of 9-year-old Bruno, who comes of age during World War II. Across 20 chapters, the narrator recounts the horrors of the Third Reich as experienced and perceived by a young child, making this novel a significant contribution to Holocaust literature.
Bruno, the main character, relocates with his family from Berlin to a residence adjacent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Torn between obeying his parents' orders not to approach the camp's fence and his innate curiosity, Bruno chooses to explore the fence and ultimately befriends Shmuel, a prisoner his own age.
Bruno's friendship with Shmuel lifts his spirits, as his life at home is marked by monotony and strictness. His father is constantly busy with work, his sister, going through adolescence, no longer plays with him, and though his mother deeply loves him, she begins an affair with a young soldier. Consequently, the boys' meetings go unnoticed, and tragedy unfolds.
The harrowing reality of the Nazi era is depicted through the innocent perspective of Bruno. In his eyes, all children are simply children, and all people are just people, irrespective of religion or race. Boyne has not only crafted a moving and poignant story, but also an acclaimed masterpiece.
Excerpt from the study guide:
In 1941, the regime began deporting Jews to the East. In The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Shmuel tells Bruno that he and his family had to leave his home village and move to a neighborhood in Krakow, where eleven people shared a room. Afterwards they were taken to the camp in "Out-With". Pavel suffered a similar fate. After he had to give up his medical practice, he was also transferred to "Out-With". After the arrival of Bruno's family, he has to work for them as a waiter. He seems to have been living in the camp for a very long time, since he cannot tell Bruno exactly how long he has been there, but only answers, "I think I’ve always been here" (Chapter 7, 90%).
Both Shmuel and Pavel were subjected to humiliation even before their time in the camp. Shmuel and his family lost all their belongings and had to wear the Jewish star on their clothes as an identifying mark. Pavel had to give up his profession and his medical practice. After deportation to the camp, the humiliations continue for both of them.
Hunger and hardship
In the many concentration camps, people endured hunger and disease and were subjected to forced labor, arbitrary violence, and targeted killings. Those who tried to escape were killed. Only a few prisoners were able to regain their freedom.
After arriving at the concentration camp, people had to first hand over their personal belongings. Then their hair was shorn and they had to wear prisoners' clothes with a number on them. This took away their individuality. They were housed in overcrowded barracks that had no sanitary facilities.
Shmuel and Pavel are also described in this way in the novel. They wear prisoners' clothing and have an identification number. Both are very thin and look sick. They are victims of the Nazis. They are taken to the camp "Out-With" and forced to labor there.
From 1941 to 1945, the Nazis carried out the systematic mass murder of European Jews (Holocaust). The Auschwitz concentration camp in present-day Poland was the largest extermination camp of this period. A total of 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, including many children.
The Nazis were very careful to cover up the mass murder. In the novel, this method of disguise is hinted at. The mother forbids Bruno to go near the fence. He also does not know what his father does for a living and what his duties in the camp are. The maid Maria also avoids answering Bruno's questions. Only Gretel tells him that Jews are locked up in the camp and tries to explain to him why the Jews have to live there.