The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary and Analysis of Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine


Several weeks go by and Bruno begins to worry that if he doesn't find some way to entertain himself at Out-With, he will go crazy. He remembers that a mad man lived on the same street as his family in Berlin, Herr Roller. When Bruno made fun of him, Mother had scolded him, saying that Herr Roller had suffered a head injury when he served with Father during the Great War. Before his injury, he had been lively and loved to dance. Bruno decides that in order to have some fun, he will build himself a rope swing on the oak tree outside the house.

Bruno goes outside to find Gretel flirting with Lieutenant Kotler. Neither of his parents are home, and he is uncomfortable watching his sister talk to this solder, about whom Bruno has a bad feeling. Bruno asks about a spare tire, and Lieutenant Kotler makes a joke that goes over his head. When Gretel laughs, Bruno reminds her that she is only twelve years old and is herself a child. This greatly upsets her, since she wants to appear mature to Lieutenant Kotler. When Bruno explains that he wants the spare tire to make a rope swing, Lieutenant Kotler says he remembers having a rope swing when he was a boy. He yells rudely to Pavel, who is nearby, telling him to go to the storage shed with Bruno to retrieve a spare tire there. Bruno follows Pavel, reluctantly leaving Gretel alone with Lieutenant Kotler, whom he does not trust.

Bruno constructs the swing and, a couple of hours later, falls off of it. He injures himself, scraping up his knee pretty badly. Pavel, who has seen the whole thing from inside the kitchen where he has been peeling vegetables, runs out to help Bruno. Since Mother is still not home, Pavel cleans Bruno's wounds in the kitchen. He tells Bruno that he used to be a doctor, which confuses Bruno, since he has always just known Pavel as the person who prepares the family's vegetables and waits on them during dinner. Bruno tells Pavel that he wants to grow up to be an explorer. When Mother returns home, Pavel goes back to peeling the vegetables. Mother tells Bruno to go to his room and he overhears her saying to Pavel, "If the Commandant Asks, we'll say that I cleaned Bruno up" (85).

More than anyone else from Berlin, Bruno misses his Grandfather and Grandmother. His Grandfather had run a restaurant in the town center, and his Grandmother had been a famous singer. She could always be talked into performing for the guests at a party and would organize plays for Bruno and Gretel to perform with her, costumes and all. Bruno remembers the last play they had put on, about a week after Father's promotion to Commandant, had ended in a dramatic argument. It had been Christmas Day, and Father had decided to wear his new uniform.

After dinner and the production, Grandmother, the only one who disapproved of Father's new uniform, had said to her son, "I wonder if all the performances I made you give as a boy led you to this. Dressing up like a puppet on a string" (90). Grandfather had encouraged her to be quiet, but she had not obeyed. Mother had tried to calm her down by asking her to confirm that Father looks handsome in his new uniform, but Grandmother was incredulous at the suggestion that how he looks would be important. Mother had told Gretel and Bruno to go upstairs, but they eavesdropped from the top of the stairs. When Father called himself a patriot, Grandmother had yelled, "A patriot indeed! The people you have to dinner in this house. Why, it makes me sick. And to see you in that uniform makes me want to tear the eyes from my head!" (93). She had stormed out of their house, and Bruno hadn't seen her since. He decides to write her a letter from Out-With, telling her how unhappy he is in their new home and how much he misses her.

More time passes at Out-With. One day, Father decides to hire a man named Herr Liszt as a tutor for Gretel and Bruno. Herr Liszt focuses on history and geography, neither of which is very interesting to Bruno, but the tutor insists that he learn about "The Fatherland" (98). He disapproves of Bruno's creative mind and wants instead to teach him "about the great wrongs that have been done to you" (98). Bruno assumes Herr Liszt is referring to how Bruno has been forced to come live at Out-With, so he agrees.

A few days later, Bruno gets the urge to go exploring, something he used to love to do before coming to Out-With. He has been watching the people on the other side of the fence from his bedroom window, wondering why they were so different from him. Although he sometimes sees the soldiers on that side of the fence, he never sees the people in the striped pajamas on his side of it. So Bruno ventures out and decides to walk along the fence as far as he can. Before he heads off, though, he examines the bench on the pavement outside his house. There is a plaque on it that marks it as having been presented on the opening of Out-With, in June of 1940. Then he begins to walk along the fence, although Mother and Father have told him many times that exploration is banned at Out-With.


Boyne continues to use the technique of omitting specific information in Chapter Seven. In this case, it is the derogatory term that Lieutenant Kotler calls Pavel, which Bruno doesn't understand: "'Hey, you!' he shouted, then adding a word that Bruno did not understand. 'Come over here, you--' He said the word again, and something about the harsh sound of it made Bruno look away and feel ashamed to be part of this at all'" (75). By not specifically naming the word, Boyne both allows the reader to take on Bruno's childlike perspective and suggests the universality of this interaction. Lieutenant Kotler could be any soldier during any war time, shouting a derogatory term to dehumanize a victim of any genocide.

Dramatic irony is in play in Chapters Eight and Nine, such as is seen during Bruno's conversation with Pavel in the kitchen. Bruno cannot understand what the reader knows: Pavel is a prisoner at Auschwitz, who has been torn away from his life as a practicing doctor and is being forced to wait on Bruno's family in the house. This dramatic irony is emphasized by the sentence fragment that makes up an entire paragraph following Pavel's description of all the things he used to do: "But not any more" (83). This suggests that Bruno understands Pavel's words carry some weight, but unlike the reader, he cannot make sense of the situation. In Chapter Nine, Bruno wonders about the people in the striped pajamas on the other side of the fence. He thinks about how "the pajama people all jumped to attention whenever the soldiers approached and sometimes they fell to the ground and sometimes they didn't even get up and had to be carried away instead" (101). To the reader, it is clear that the soldiers are killing the Jews during these interactions, but Bruno cannot comprehend that.

The dramatic irony of the situation around Bruno's rope swing injury is complemented by the limited third-person narration. Bruno is happy to hear Mother thank Pavel, "because surely it was obvious to everyone that if it hadn't been for him, he would have bled to death" (85). But of course, the opposite is true: Bruno, the child, is the person to whom this is obvious. Mother is grateful, but what she says next indicates that she knows Father would be furious if he heard that Pavel had touched Bruno, his son. So she demonstrates empathy and protects Pavel by saying she will cover for him if the Commandant asks who cleaned Bruno up. Bruno completely misinterprets this action, thinking it is selfish and "a way for Mother to take credit for something she hadn't done" (85).

The character of Herr Roller is introduced in Chapter Seven and doesn't appear again in the story. He is introduced through the technique of flashback, in which Bruno remembers a conversation he had with Mother regarding the man. Herr Roller's head injury and subsequent loss of mental facilities demonstrate an example of one of the costs of war. He is also an ex-German soldier who is a sympathetic character; his loss draws the reader's attention to the humanity of the German soldiers, even as they commit despicable acts against the Jews in WWII.

Gretel's character development into an indoctrinated follower of the Nazi party is introduced in Chapter Seven, when Bruno points out how young she is in front of Lieutenant Kotler. She responds by snapping at him, "her laughter stopped now, her face frozen in horror, 'I'll be thirteen in a couple of weeks' time. A teenager. Just like you'" (74). Her words to Lieutenant Kotler accomplish two things: first, they foreshadow her mental shift as she grows out of childhood; and second, they remind the reader that some of the Nazi soldiers committing horrible actions against the Jews in the concentration camps were indoctrinated teenagers.

The issue of gender inequality arises in the character of Grandmother in Chapter Eight. She is outspoken about her strong disapproval of Father's new appointment to Commandant. When Grandfather tries to hush her, telling her they'd spoken about this before, she shoots back, "You discussed it, Mattias. I was merely the blank wall to whom you addressed your words. As usual" (91). This comment reveals that the inequality in their conversations mirrors that of the conversations between Mother and Father. Grandmother also represents the strongest voice among the female characters, who are the only ones with reservations about what is going on in their country. Maria must keep her silence because of her financial dependence on Bruno's Father and Mother makes small defiant gestures like protecting Pavel, but Grandmother spoke up about her disapproval. Unfortunately, because of her position as a woman, she is unable to do anything to stop her son from pursuing his career in the Nazi party.