Bruno, a young boy living in Berlin during the Nazi regime, arrives home from school one day to find his family's maid, Maria, packing up his things. When he asks his mother what is going on, she takes him downstairs and explains to him that they're going to move away. She frames it positively, saying that "it's going to be a great adventure" (3). Mother explains that Bruno's father's job is the reason they are all leaving their home in Berlin; someone Bruno knows only as "the Fury" has plans for his father's career. Bruno isn't quite sure what his father's job is; the jobs of his school-friends' fathers are much clearer to him.
When he asks his mother how far away they will be moving, she tells him it's quite far away and that he will have to say goodbye to his school friends, Karl, Daniel, and Martin. Bruno is unhappy with this news but when he complains, Mother silences him. She says she wishes they had more time to prepare, but "thanks to some people," they are leaving rather last-minute. Bruno knows that when his mother says, "some people," she's referring to Father.
Bruno thinks about how much he will miss his house in Berlin, especially the banister that he often slides down. He will also miss Grandfather and Grandmother, who currently live close by to Bruno's family. Bruno walks upstairs, resigned to help Maria pack his things, but briefly looks down to Father's office. He has been told and understands that Father's office is "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." He witnesses an argument between Mother and Father, which father apparently wins, but Bruno can't make out the words.
Chapter Two begins with a comparison of Bruno's old home in Berlin to his new living situation. His old home in Berlin was very large and spacious, with beautiful furniture and decorations, as well as many places for him to hide in and explore. Berlin itself was a bustling city with many stimulating sights and smells. He used to walk home from school with his friends Karl, Daniel, and Martin. They would pass people sitting at tables outside, eating and laughing.
In contrast, "there was something about the new house that made Bruno think that no one ever laughed there; that there was nothing to laugh at and nothing to be happy about" (13). They have brought Maria with them, and have taken on three new servants and an old man who prepares their dinner and waits on them during meals. This man is Pavel, though Bruno does not know his name yet. He does notice that the three servants and Pavel are "quite skinny and only ever [speak] to each other in whispering voices," which implies to the reader that they are prisoners at Auschwitz (13).
Bruno tells Mother that he thinks it was a bad idea to move there, but she tells him they must make the best of it. She says that they "don't have the luxury of thinking... Some people make all the decisions for us," referring to Father (13-14). Bruno encourages her to tell Father that she has changed her mind about moving there and that they should stop unpacking so they can move back to Berlin the very next day. She snaps at him and tells him to go help Maria unpack his things before marching away.
Bruno goes upstairs to help Maria unpack in his new bedroom, which he finds quite depressing. He asks the maid what she thinks of the situation, but she responds that she has nothing to say about it. Bruno starts complaining about Father's job but stops abruptly when a figure appears by his door. It is Lieutenant Kotler, a young man who will be working under Father. Bruno has a bad feeling about him. Bruno becomes even more depressed as he realizes that there will likely be nobody with whom to play in this new place. He crosses the room to look out his bedroom window, hoping to see Berlin. Instead, he sees something that makes him "feel very cold and unsafe" (20).
Boyne concerns himself with the plight of female characters, though the details of their specific situations are revealed through the lens of Bruno's narration. In the first chapter, the reader recognizes that Father has power over Mother not only because his job is dictating where they move without her having a say in the matter, but because he actually silences her voice in the argument Bruno witnesses between them: "he heard her speaking loudly to [Father] until Father spoke louder than Mother could and that put a stop to their conversation" (10). This literal silencing of Mother is representative of the figurative silencing of women's voices at this point in history, as well as in many times of war.
Mother reacts passive-aggressively, the only way she can, for example by referring to Father as "some people." Bruno knows that "'some people' was a grown-up's word for 'Father' and one that he wasn't supposed to use himself" (9). When Bruno complains that he doesn't thinking moving was a good idea after all, Mother tells him that they "don't have the luxury of thinking" because "[some] people make all the decisions for us" (13-14).
One of the ways Boyne establishes that the third-person narration is from Bruno's childish point of view is through the use of capitalization and misnaming of specific, recognizable names. For example, Bruno refers to his father's boss as "the Fury"; the reader must infer that this is actually "the Furor," or Adolf Hitler. Bruno understands that Father's office is "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions," a phrase that he has presumably memorized after hearing it many times from his parents. This way of thinking about things so concretely, of making sense of a rule and applying it to all situations, is a characteristic of Bruno that identifies him as a child.
Another way that Bruno's point of view is conveyed to the reader is through the use of specific similes to describe his feelings and reactions. For example, when Mother tells him that he must say goodbye to his school friends, he questions her, "spluttering out the words as if his mouth was full of biscuits that he'd munched into tiny pieces but not actually swallowed yet" (7). This imagery makes sense to the reader but very distinctly refers to a situation to which a chid can easily relate.
Because of the limits of the narrator, the reader is able to approach the horrors of the Holocaust as if he or she has no prior knowledge - much like Bruno. The reader is required to put together details Bruno notices in order to make sense of the larger issues at play. For example, in Chapter One, Bruno notices that Mother "couldn't have applied her make-up correctly that morning because the rims of her eyes were more red than usual, like his own after he'd been causing chaos and got into trouble and ended up crying" (3). Bruno cannot fathom that his mother has been crying, but this description reveals to the reader the extent of her sorrow and frustration.
The limited narrator also allows for much dramatic irony. For example, when Bruno describes his visceral reaction to the depressing new living situation which Father's job has brought them, the reader cannot help but compare his relatively comfortable situation to that of the imprisoned Jews, just on the other side of the fence. This dramatic irony is employed alongside purposefully-omitted information to encourage the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. For example, Chapter Two leaves the reader hanging, so to speak, by neglecting to describe what Bruno sees out his bedroom window beyond the fact that it makes Bruno "feel very cold and unsafe" (20). Since the reader likely has some prior knowledge of the Holocaust, they might guess that the scene Bruno witnesses has to do with the prisoners at Auschwitz, though Bruno cannot make sense of what he sees.