The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Summary, Plot, Characters, Literary Analysis & More

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a poignant novel by John Boyne, first published in 2006. This novel, set against the backdrop of World War II, emerged as one of Boyne’s greatest critical and popular successes.

It revolves around the young German boy, Bruno, and his unlikely friendship with a Jewish boy named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a concentration camp’s wire fence.

Through their innocent interactions, Boyne’s story explores themes of social class, human worth, and the profound impact of the Holocaust.

As Bruno and Shmuel’s lives converge, readers are immersed in a tale of friendship, empathy, and the haunting realities of the Nazi regime.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, this novel emerged as one of Boyne's greatest critical and popular successes.

The Plot

In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” young Bruno decides to explore the world beyond his new home near Auschwitz, unaware of the horrors of the Holocaust.

While his father, a Nazi commandant, oversees the concentration camp, Bruno befriends Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp’s tall fence.

Their secret meetings lead to an unlikely and heartwarming friendship, transcending the boundaries of war and prejudice.

Bruno’s innocence and Shmuel’s tragic reality collide, culminating in a devastating climax that underscores the profound impact of their friendship amidst the darkest of times.


“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” features a cast of characters whose lives are profoundly affected by World War II and the Holocaust. Here are some of the key characters in the novel:


The young German boy at the heart of the story. Bruno’s curiosity and innocence drive the narrative as he decides to explore his new surroundings, ultimately leading to his unlikely friendship with Shmuel.


A Jewish boy living on the other side of the concentration camp’s fence. Shmuel’s life is marked by suffering and loss, and his friendship with Bruno provides a glimmer of hope amidst the despair of Auschwitz.

Bruno’s Father

A Nazi commandant responsible for the Auschwitz concentration camp. While he carries out his duties for the regime, his actions have profound consequences for his family and those within the camp.

Bruno’s Mother

Bruno’s mother is a complex character in the story. Initially portrayed as loyal to her husband’s position in the Nazi regime, she gradually becomes more conflicted as she witnesses the impact of her family’s move to Auschwitz on her children.

Key Themes

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” delves into several powerful themes that resonate throughout the narrative, shedding light on the human condition during World War II. Three prominent themes that appear in the book include:

Friendship Across Boundaries

The novel explores the unlikely friendship between Bruno and Shmuel, transcending the boundaries of war, prejudice, and social class. Their bond highlights the capacity for compassion and connection in the face of adversity, emphasizing the universal need for human connection.

Innocence and Ignorance

Bruno’s innocence and ignorance about the Holocaust starkly contrast with the grim reality of the concentration camp. This theme underscores the impact of ignorance on individuals and the tragic consequences that can result from a lack of awareness and understanding.

Moral Dilemmas

The story presents moral dilemmas faced by characters such as Bruno’s mother and father, who grapple with their roles in the Nazi regime. The theme of moral choices explores the complexities of human nature, conscience, and the consequences of actions during a dark period in history.

Genres in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a multi-layered novel that encompasses various genres, adding depth and complexity to its narrative. Three prominent genres within the book include:

Historical Fiction

The novel is firmly rooted in the historical backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, offering a fictionalized account that provides insight into the era’s historical realities, including concentration camps and the Nazi regime.


Through Bruno’s journey and personal growth, the story explores the classic coming-of-age theme. His innocence and curiosity evolve into a deeper understanding of the world, making the novel a poignant exploration of childhood transitions.


The story’s intense emotional and moral conflicts, coupled with the backdrop of war and friendship, create a dramatic narrative. The characters’ choices and experiences drive the novel’s emotional intensity and keep readers engaged throughout.

Language used in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author John Boyne employs a simple yet powerful writing style that mirrors the innocence and perspective of the young protagonist, Bruno.

The narrative is characterized by straightforward language, allowing readers to connect deeply with Bruno’s thoughts and emotions.

Boyne skillfully juxtaposes Bruno’s childlike innocence with the dark backdrop of the Holocaust, creating a stark contrast that enhances the novel’s impact.

The language used serves as a poignant tool to convey the story’s atmosphere and emotions, drawing readers into the heart of the narrative.

Literary devices in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Various literary devices are employed to enhance the story’s depth and impact. These devices include symbolism, juxtaposition, and foreshadowing. For instance, Lieutenant Kotler’s character serves as a symbol of the cruelty and dehumanization of the Nazi regime.

Through subtle hints and foreshadowing, Boyne builds tension and anticipation, culminating in a powerful and emotional climax. These literary devices contribute to the novel’s compelling narrative and underscore its exploration of the Holocaust and its devastating consequences.


Author John Boyne employs similes to enhance the reader’s understanding and engagement. For example, when describing Lieutenant Kotler’s demeanor, Boyne writes, “Lieutenant Kotler was as cold as a stone.”

This simile vividly conveys Kotler’s unfeeling and ruthless nature, enabling readers to grasp his character’s callousness.

By comparing him to a stone, the simile emphasizes the stark contrast between Kotler’s emotional detachment and the human empathy that the story’s characters often display, making his character all the more chilling and memorable.


In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” author John Boyne employs metaphors to convey deeper meanings. For instance, when Bruno gave Shmuel his own striped pajamas, it metaphorically represents the blurring of societal boundaries and the human capacity for empathy.

This act of sharing clothing becomes a symbol of unity and friendship amidst the backdrop of the Holocaust. Metaphors like these serve to underscore the novel’s themes of connection and the universal bonds that transcend prejudice and hate.


Throughout “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” analogies are used to help readers grasp complex ideas. For example, when describing Shmuel’s appearance (Shmuel wears his striped pajamas), the text draws an analogy to a “pale dot.”

This analogy not only vividly illustrates Shmuel’s emaciated state but also serves as a poignant commentary on the dehumanizing conditions within the concentration camp.

Analogies like these offer readers a deeper emotional connection to the story’s themes and characters, making the narrative more relatable and impactful.


In this piece of holocaust literature, John Boyne employs vivid imagery in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to create sensory experiences for readers.

Descriptions of Shmuel wearing the striped pajamas and Bruno’s clothes, along with Ed Wright’s illustrations, evoke powerful mental images. This imagery not only paints a clear picture of the characters and their surroundings but also adds depth to the emotional impact of the story.

It allows readers to immerse themselves in the harrowing world of the Holocaust, making the novel’s themes and messages even more poignant and memorable.


In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” symbols like the same striped pajamas worn by two boys and the tire swing in Shmuel’s world represent the stark contrast between innocence and the grim reality of the Holocaust.

These symbols connect to larger themes of the loss of childhood, the horrors of war, and the dehumanizing effects of the Holocaust, emphasizing the stark disparities between Bruno’s adventure stories and the gas chamber’s harrowing truth.


Personification is subtly woven into the narrative of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” The age named Shmuel personifies time itself, reflecting the profound impact of the Holocaust on a young boy’s life.

This personification adds depth to Shmuel’s character, portraying him as a timeless representation of innocence and tragedy in the face of historical events, making him a symbol of resilience.


Hyperbole is used sparingly in the novel, with the gas chamber being described as an exaggerated representation of the horrors faced during the Holocaust.

This literary device heightens the emotional impact of the narrative, emphasizing the unimaginable atrocities committed during this dark period in history.

By exaggerating the gas chamber’s chilling reality, the hyperbole serves to underscore the novel’s central themes of loss, innocence, and the consequences of blind obedience to authority.


In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” irony plays a pivotal role in the narrative. The dramatic irony lies in the stark contrast between Bruno’s innocent perspective and the readers’ awareness of the Holocaust’s horrors.

It adds depth to the story, creating a sense of impending tragedy that engages readers emotionally and intellectually.


John Boyne employs juxtaposition to highlight stark contrasts throughout the novel. The new house Bruno’s family moves to is juxtaposed with the grim reality of Auschwitz, emphasizing the stark differences in their respective worlds.

This literary device creates thought-provoking scenarios that challenge readers to confront the stark disparities in privilege and suffering during World War II.


“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” explores paradoxical situations, with Shmuel’s father working in the concentration camp while living in such close proximity to the gas chamber.

This paradox serves to underscore the absurdity and inhumanity of the Holocaust, where the ordinary and the horrifying coexist. It prompts readers to contemplate the complexities of human behavior and the inexplicable nature of historical atrocities.


The novel contains several historical allusions, such as references to Berlin and the Irish Independent newspaper.

These allusions serve to ground the narrative in a specific historical context, reminding readers of the broader backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust.

The mention of Berlin, for example, evokes the center of Nazi power, while the reference to the Irish Independent situates the story in a particular time and place.


While “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is not a direct allegory, it contains allegorical elements that symbolize broader themes.

The fence separating Bruno and Shmuel symbolizes the arbitrary divisions created by war and prejudice. Their friendship becomes an allegory for the universal human desire for connection, highlighting the tragic consequences when such connections are obstructed by hate.


In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, onomatopoeic words are used sparingly to add auditory dimensions to the narrative.

While not central to the story, subtle sounds like the soldiers rounding up prisoners or the footsteps of Bruno, as he meets Shmuel through the fence, create a sense of immediacy and tension.

These auditory elements immerse readers in the story’s atmosphere, heightening their emotional engagement with the events unfolding in the book.


Repetition is used strategically in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” to underscore key themes and emotional impact. For example, the repetition of Shmuel’s name when Bruno first meets him emphasizes the significance of their encounter and foreshadows the deep bond they will form.

Repetition serves to reinforce the novel’s themes of friendship, innocence, and the tragic consequences of intolerance, leaving a lasting impression on readers.

The Use of Dialogue 

In “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” dialogue is skillfully employed to convey character traits, themes, and narrative tension. Bruno’s innocent and curious nature is exemplified through his dialogue, contrasting sharply with the darkness of the Holocaust.

The conversations between Bruno and Shmuel highlight themes of friendship and the human desire for connection, intensifying the narrative’s emotional impact.

Additionally, dialogue underscores the tension between Bruno’s lack of awareness and the readers’ understanding of the tragic events, adding depth to the storytelling.


“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” subtly incorporates parallelism, particularly in the portrayal of Bruno and Shmuel as friends on opposite sides of the fence.

This structural parallelism serves to highlight the universal theme of friendship transcending boundaries and the tragic consequences when those boundaries are enforced.

Parallelism in character development underscores the novel’s message about the human capacity for empathy and connection in the face of adversity.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: FAQs

Here are frequently asked questions regarding the plot summary of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

Delve into this section to find answers to common queries about this thought-provoking and emotionally charged novel.

What is the main point of the boy in the striped pajamas?

The main point of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is to portray the innocence and friendship of two young boys, Bruno and Shmuel, who form a connection across the fence of a Nazi concentration camp, juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Holocaust.

What did Gretel get rid of?

Gretel got rid of her dolls as she grew older, a symbol of her transition into adolescence and the loss of childhood innocence in the face of the war.

Why was Shmuel in Bruno’s Kitchen?

Shmuel ended up in Bruno’s kitchen when Bruno, unaware of the horrors of the camp, offered him food, showcasing the genuine friendship that transcended their circumstances.

What is the story behind World War II in the book?

In the book, World War II is presented as the historical backdrop for the narrative, highlighting the impact of war on individuals, especially children, and the tragic consequences of prejudice and hatred.

Summing up: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Summary, Plot & More

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is a haunting and poignant novel that leaves an indelible mark on readers. John Boyne’s masterful storytelling draws us into the innocent world of Bruno while powerfully juxtaposing it with the grim backdrop of the Holocaust.

Through its themes of friendship, loss of innocence, and the devastating consequences of prejudice, the novel serves as a thought-provoking exploration of the human condition. Its simplicity and emotional resonance make it accessible to a wide audience, allowing readers to confront the darkest chapter of history through the eyes of a child.

This book’s impact and appeal lie in its ability to ignite empathy and reflection, leaving a lasting impression on all who delve into its pages.

Other Notable Works by John Boyne

If you are interested in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, you may be interested in other works by John Boyne including:

  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies” explores the life of Cyril Avery in a captivating tale of love and identity.
  • A Ladder to the Sky,” John Boyne delves into the dark corners of ambition and the price of success.
  • The Absolutist” is a poignant story of love and betrayal during World War I.
  • The House of Special Purpose” takes readers into the last days of the Russian Imperial family.
  • The Thief of Time” is a historical novel that weaves together the stories of two men from different eras.
  • Stay Where You Are and Then Leave” tells the moving story of a young boy searching for his father during World War I.
  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain” explores the moral dilemmas faced by a young boy in Nazi Germany.
  • This House Is Haunted” is a chilling ghost story set in Victorian England.
  • Noah Barleywater Runs Away” is a heartwarming tale of a young boy’s adventure and self-discovery.

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket” is a whimsical story about a boy who can float.

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" features a cast of characters whose lives are profoundly affected by World War II and the Holocaust.