About the Book

Book Protagonist: Bruno
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Drama, Fable, Historical Fiction


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

By John Boyne

'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' by John Boyne is a young adult novel that’s filled with emotional and memorable quotes. Most of these concern the very different lives that Bruno and Shmuel live.

The novel is written for young adults, but the prose is anything but basic. It’s filled with meaning and helps rank the book among the best ever written about the Holocaust. John Boyne acknowledges in the novel that no one, except for those who experience it, can truly understand the horrors of that “time and place,” but he does an exceptional job of making Auschwitz feel terrifyingly real.


And then the room went very dark and somehow, despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.

These heartbreaking lines appear near the end of the novel when the main character Bruno and Shmuel have been taken into a gas chamber and are unaware of what is about to happen to them. Bruno’s love for his new best friend is at its strongest in these incredibly terrifying moments. The enduring nature of friendship is one of the primary themes of this novel, and it’s never stronger than it is at this moment. 

He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel’s tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly.

“You’re my best friend, Shmuel,” he said. “My best friend for life.

This is another quote from the end of the novel. Bruno again shares his care for Shmuel and their friendship. Although he hasn’t known the other boy very long or spent very much time with him, they have a great deal in common. Neither quite understand the situations they’re in or why the other is treated differently. But their age, their kindness, and shared experiences help them come together. They have one another at the end of their lives. 

Ideology and Cruelty 

What exactly was the difference? He wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?

These lines are inspired by Bruno’s curiosity about the men, women, and children on the other side of the fence wearing the striped pajamas. He doesn’t understand what they’re doing there or why some people where the stripes and others, like his father, wear uniforms. Just by looking at them, he can’t tell the difference between them.

Bruno’s youth helps him ignore the incredible cruelty inflicted on marginalized groups, like the Jews, during the Holocaust. He doesn’t share the same learned prejudices that his father promotes. 

The people I see from my window. In the huts, in the distance. They’re all dressed the same.’ ‘Ah, those people,’ said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. ‘Those people…well, they’re not people at all, Bruno.’ Bruno frowned. ‘They’re not?’ he asked, unsure what Father meant by that.”

In these lines, Bruno questions his father about where they’re living and what the people on the other side of the fence are doing. He asks his father why they’re all dressed the same and why they’re behind a fence. His father answers in a chilling and cruel way, saying that those people are “not people at all.” This is a simple answer and one that baffles Bruno. He doesn’t understand how people are not actually “people” or what the difference between them and his family is. 

Language and Youth

Heil Hitler,” he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.

These lines are an example of the way that Bruno interprets words and places because of his youth. He doesn’t know who Hitler is or what it means to say the phrase. He also doesn’t comprehend what Auschwitz is, saying “Out-With” instead. 

Bruno opened his eyes in wonder at the things he saw. In his imagination he had tough that all the huts were full of happy families, some of whom sat outside on rocking chairs in the evening and told stories about how things were so much better when they were children and they’d had nowadays. He thought that all the boys and girls who lived there would be in different groups, playing tennis or football, skipping and drawing out squares for hopscotch on the ground. As it turned out, all the things he thought might be there-weren’t.

With these lines, Bruno analyzes what he understands about the outside world and his new home. He sees the “huts” that make up the camp and believes that they must be full of “happy families” because that’s all he knows about the world. The reader knows differently, though, as they do throughout much of the novel.

It’s so unfair, I don’t see why I have to be stuck over here on this side of the fence where there’s no one to talk to and no one to play with and you get to have dozens of friends are probably playing for hours every day, I’ll have to speak to Father about it.

In these lines, Bruno is talking to Shmuel and complaining about life on the other side of the fence. All he sees is that Shmuel has friends on his side and Bruno alone on his. He’s jealous that Shmuel is with people he loves while Bruno is forced to leave his only friends in Berlin. This quote demonstrates Bruno’s youth and his lack of understanding regarding what’s going on at Auschwitz.


. . .only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.

These lines memorialize what happened during the Holocaust, or “on the other side of the fence,” and accept that no one outside of that specific world will truly understand what it was like. The “awfulness of that time and place” can only be imagined and speculated upon by anyone who wasn’t there, including the author. 


What is an important quote from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

There are a wide variety of important quotes from this novel, including the quote, “What exactly was the difference? He wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”

What is the last line of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

The last line of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is “Not in this day and age.” It is included in the paragraph: “And that’s the end of the story about Bruno and his family. Of course, all this happened a long time ago, and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”

What is the moral message of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

The moral message of this novel is that all people are the same in a child’s eyes. Bruno is not aligned with any political ideology and therefore feels entirely confused by why a group of people is being treated differently than his family is. 

What are Bruno’s last words in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno’s last words in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are, `You’re my best friend, Shmuel,’ he said. ‘My best friend for life.’

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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