About the Book
Bruno is only nine years old when his father, a commandant in Hitler’s army, is transferred from Berlin to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The house at “Out-With,” as Bruno calls it, is small, dark, and strange. He spends long days gazing out the window of his new bedroom, where he notices people dressed in striped pajamas and rows of barracks surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Bored and lonely, and not really understanding the circumstance of his new existence, Bruno sets out to explore the area and discovers Shmuel, a very thin Jewish boy who lives on the other side of the fence. An unlikely friendship develops between the two boys, but when Bruno learns that his mother plans to take her children back to Berlin, he makes a last effort to explore the forbidden territory where the boy in the striped pajamas lives.
For more information about the Holocaust and lesson ideas, check out the following articles:
- At age twelve, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the League of Young Girls, a branch of Hitler’s Youth Organization. Why do you think she is not a member, especially since her father is a high-ranking officer in Hitler’s army?
- Describe Bruno’s reaction when he first sees the people in the striped pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she says, “Something about the way [Bruno] was watching made her feel suddenly nervous”? (p. 28) How does this statement foreshadow Bruno’s ultimate demise?
- Bruno asks his father about the people outside their house at Auschwitz. His father answers, “They’re not people at all, Bruno.” (p. 53) How does his father’s statement make Bruno more curious about Out-With?
- Explain what Bruno’s mother means when she says, “We don’t have the luxury of thinking.” (p. 13) Identify scenes from the novel indicating that Bruno’s mother isn’t happy about their life at Out-With. Debate whether she is unhappy being away from Berlin, or whether she is angry about her husband’s position.
- When Bruno and his family board the train for Auschwitz, he notices an overcrowded train headed in the same direction. How does he later make the connection between Shmuel and that train? How are both trains symbolic of each boy’s final journey?
- A pun is most often seen as humorous. But, in this novel the narrator uses dark or solemn puns like Out-With and Fury to convey certain meanings. Discuss the use of this wordplay as a literary device. What is the narrator trying to convey to the reader? How do these words further communicate the horror of the situation?
- When Bruno dresses in the filthy striped pajamas, he remembers something his grandmother once said. “You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be.” (p. 205) How is this true for Bruno? What about his father? What does this statement contribute to the story’s overall meaning?
- Discuss the moral or message of the novel. What new insights and understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from reading this story?