The novel is unique in its use of a youthful narrator and the terrifying, world-changing events that he is privy to. Readers experience World War II and the Holocaust through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy who has no understanding of either.
He spends the novel unsure why there are hundreds of people who look sick and tired behind a fence outside his home, nor does he realize the consequences of putting on a pair of “striped pajamas” and slipping under the fence to help his friend search for his lost father.
Language in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
After reading this groundbreaking young adult novel, I couldn’t help walking away with my mind tied to the final images as well as the author’s incredibly creative use of language. Few books cover such intense subject matter from the perspective of a child. In this case, the author chose to convey a young German boy’s experience during World War II after his father was made the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
At only nine years old, Bruno is asked to contend with the terrifying images of the camp outside of his home every day after moving from Berlin to Poland. His innocence comes with a degree of ignorance that protects them from the truth of what’s going on around him.
Bruno’s lack of understanding regarding his surroundings, the war, and the people fighting it, comes through clearly in the author’s use of language. Specifically, the authors chose to have Bruno use mispronunciations of certain key words. These include “Auschwitz” and “The Fuhrer” which Bruno pronounces “Out-With” and “The Fury.” For example, the phrase “Heil Hitler” means nothing to Bruno. He thinks:
“Heil Hitler,” he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.
There are also other examples, mainly seen through Bruno’s general misunderstanding of what’s going on around him. The striped pajamas are a very important example. He thinks:
What exactly was the difference? He wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?
Another comes fairly early in the novel when Bruno is still struggling to get over moving away from his friends in Berlin. He has met Shmuel, a Jewish boy imprisoned in the other side of the fence, and tells the young boy that he’s jealous that he gets to spend time with other children his age while Bruno is all alone with his family. The quote reads:
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.
These lines are incredibly striking, so much so that I found myself thinking about them long after finishing the novel. The idea that someone, albeit a young boy, would have so little comprehension of what was going on within Auschwitz that he would feel jealousy that he wasn’t in the same fenced-in prison is truly notable.
These lines, to me, more than any other, show how different children are from adults when it comes to ideology and a broader understanding of the world. Bruno cares about a few things– family, friends, and having fun. War, cruelty, and death do not make it onto his radar.
Irony in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
One of the reasons that I found, and I believe other readers find, this novel so compelling is the author’s use of dramatic irony. This is a literary technique that’s found throughout the novel and occurs when the audience is aware of something that the characters in the novel, or a single character, it’s not aware of.
In this case, the truth of Germany’s role in World War II, the Nazi party, Adolf Hitler, the various phrases and words Bruno doesn’t understand, and most importantly, what’s going on in the Auschwitz concentration camp and why the people behind the fence are wearing “striped pajamas.”
Bruno is only nine years old at the start of this novel and therefore can’t be blamed for the various misunderstandings he has after moving to Poland with his family. He struggles to come to terms with the move in a way that most readers, no matter their age, will relate to from their youth.
His interest in friendship and his love for exploring their old, large home in Berlin make a move very difficult for him. Amidst his childish worries, readers get glimpses of the state of both Germany and Poland, the progression of the war, the suffering of the Jewish men, women, and children in the concentration camp, and much more.
This is particularly true at the end of the novel when Bruno and Shmuel are taken into a dark room and die together, holding hands. The author did not include the words “gas chamber” in this passage, but all readers who have a prior understanding of WWI and the Holocaust are likely to guess right away what happened to the two. Bruno, and Shmuel’s, childhood innocence makes their fate all the more horrifying.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Boyne's Young Adult Masterpiece
Lasting Effect on Reader
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Review
‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ is a young adult novel that reads like a historical memoir of the Holocaust and World War II. It’s written from Bruno’s unique, youthful perspective and draws readers in through its highly relevant subject matter and deeply emotional conclusion.
- The author’s use of creative language
- The use of dramatic irony
- Bruno’s likeability
- Only a few important characters
- The novel could be longer/more in-depth
- Traumatizing subject matter that may not be suited for all readers