The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary and Analysis of Chapters Ten, Eleven, and Twelve


Bruno walks along the fence for about an hour without seeing anyone. Just as he starts feeling hungry and begins to think about turning back, he sees a tiny speck in the distance that, as he gets closer, turns out to be a little boy on the other side of the fence. Bruno approaches him and says hello. The boy is wearing the striped pajamas that all people on the other side of the fence wear, and on his upper arm is a band with the Star of David on it. Bruno doesn't know what the star is, but he notes the symbol. Bruno is "sure that he had never seen a skinnier or sadder boy in his life" (107).

Bruno strikes up a conversation with the boy, sitting down on his own side of the fence so he can talk with the boy through it. The boy tells him that his name is Shmuel; Bruno has never heard of that name, and Shmuel has never heard of Bruno's name. The boys discover that they are both nine years old and that, in fact, they were both born on April 15, 1934. Bruno asks if Shmuel has any friends on that side of the fence, and Shmuel tells him that there are many boys their age living there with him. Bruno tells Shmuel that he is from Berlin; Shmuel is from Poland, but he speaks German because his mother is a teacher - she speaks French, Italian, and English, too. Bruno tells Shmuel that "Germany is the greatest of all countries... We're superior" (112), but even as he says this, he realizes that his words sound rude. Shmuel reveals that they are currently in Poland, which comes as a surprise to Bruno, who doesn't quite know where Poland is. Bruno tells Shmuel about Berlin and how it has become noisy and scary recently, and Bruno tells him that where he comes from is probably nicer than Berlin.

Chapter Eleven takes the form of a flashback to a few months earlier, when Bruno's family still lived in Berlin. One night, Father had arrived home and informed the family that the Fury was coming to dinner. Mother had cleaned the house frantically to prepare. Father had prepared Bruno and Gretel for the Fury's arrival by telling them, "it is very important for my career that tonight goes well" (119). When the Fury had arrived, he was with a woman named Eva. In contrast to the Fury's brusque hostility - he was "the rudest guest Bruno had ever witnessed" - Eva had been kind to the children and had smiled at Bruno before the Father closed the door to the dining room (122). After the Fury and Eva had left, Bruno had overheard his parents' conversation about leaving Berlin. Days later, he had arrived home from school to find Maria packing his belongings.

Chapter Twelve returns to Bruno and Shmuel's conversation from opposite sides of the fence. Chapter Ten had ended with Bruno's question to Shmuel: "Why are there so many people on that side of the fence? And what are you all doing there?" (115). Shmuel answers by explaining his experience. He lived with his mother, father, and his brother Josef in an apartment above his father's watchmaking store. One day, his mother was making armbands for the family with the Star of David on them, and she told him he had to wear his whenever he left the house. Bruno tells Shmuel that his father wears an armband, too - only Father's armband has the Nazi symbol on it, while Shmuel's family's armbands have the Star of David.

Shmuel goes on to tell Bruno about how he came to live at Out-With. His family was told they had to move to a different part of Cracow, all cramped in one room with another family. They were on the wrong side of a wall that the soldiers had built. Bruno doesn't believe that so many people could have lived in only one room, but he doesn't tell Shmuel that. There were eleven people total living in that room, including one of the sons from the other family, Luka, who Shmuel tells Bruno "kept hitting me even when I did nothing wrong" (129). Bruno relates that Gretel sometimes hits him, too, but Shmuel doesn't respond to his observation.

Shmuel tells Bruno that one day soldiers arrived and packed him and everyone living nearby into huge trucks. Lots of people hid from the soldiers, but Shmuel believes they were all eventually found. They were brought to a train, which Shmuel says "was horrible... there was no air to breathe. And it smelled awful" (129). Bruno tells him that he should have gotten on the train Bruno took, the one on the other side of the platform, but Shmuel says his train had no doors. Bruno doesn't believe him about that detail, either. Shmuel tells him that when they got off the train, they all had to walk to Out-With; Bruno counters that his family "had a car" (130). He cannot understand why Shmuel seems so sad, since "after all much the same thing had happened to him" (130).

Shmuel tells Bruno that there are hundreds of other boys on his side of the fence, and Bruno reiterates his feeling that it is unfair for him to have no one to play with on his side. Shmuel tells him they don't play, and this surprises Bruno. Shmuel asks Bruno if he has any food and Bruno tells him that he had meant to bring chocolate, but forgot. Bruno tells him that dinner isn't served until half-past six, and invites Shmuel to come have dinner with his family sometime. When Shmuel doesn't return the invitation, Bruno suggests that perhaps he could come under the fence to visit with Shmuel and his friends. Shmuel becomes nervous and tells Bruno he has to go back because he'll be in trouble if they catch him. Bruno shouts after him that he'll be back tomorrow, and sets off for home. He decides to keep his new friend a secret from his family, since he doesn't want to be told he can't see Shmuel anymore.


In Chapter Ten, Boyne sprinkles a bit of ironic humor into a story about horrific subject matter. When Bruno first sees Shmuel in the distance, he wonders about what kind of discovery this boy will be. Since he fancies himself an explorer, he considers that famous historical explorers never know what they will find: "[most] of the time they came across something interesting that was just sitting there, minding its own business, waiting to be discovered (such as America)" (105). This aside serves as a little joke to the reader, who is expected to know that America was, of course, not just waiting to be discovered by Europeans. There were entire advanced civilizations of people living there before the explorers Bruno has read about arrived. But as a child growing up in a German school system in the middle of the twentieth century, Bruno's understanding of American history is quite limited.

Shmuel, who is introduced in these chapters, serves as a mirror character for Bruno. Upon discovering that they were born on the same day, Bruno says "[we're] like twins" (110). The reader only learns about Shmuel through Bruno's perception of him and through what he tells Bruno about his life before arriving at Out-With. Boyne gives the two characters many similarities: they are both small for their age, they share a birthday, and they are both at Out-With. In Chapter Twelve, Shmuel describes how he came to have to wear his Star of David armband and draws the symbol in the dirt. Bruno points out that his Father wears one, too, and draws the Nazi symbol in the dirt on his side of the fence. They were both forced to leave their comfortable homes against their will. When Shmuel describes how he and his family were forced to come on a train to Out-With, Bruno cannot understand why Shmuel seems so sad, since "much the same thing had happened to him" (130).

But the key difference between them - that Shmuel is Jewish and thus a member of the oppressed group in this genocide, while Bruno happens to be German and thus a member of the oppressing group - is clear. When Bruno tells Shmuel that Father also wears an armband, Shmuel observes, "Yes, but they're different, aren't they?" (127). In addition, their names mark them as different. Shmuel is a distinctively Jewish name and Bruno is has never heard it before; Shmuel tells him "there are dozens of Shmuels on this side of the fence. Hundreds probably" (109). This represents the insurmountable gulf between their life experiences, which is the result of an arbitrary difference.

The dramatic irony that has been at play throughout the novel so far comes to the forefront in Bruno's conversation with Shmuel. Neither boy completely understands the situation he is experiencing, but Shmuel has more knowledge than Bruno. He is living in the concentration camp and witnesses horrors every day. When he tells Bruno that there are many boys their age living there with him, Bruno declares that "[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 and are probably playing for hours every day. I'll have to speak to Father about it" (111). Shmuel does not correct him, but of course Shmuel is not "playing" on the other side of the fence. The irony is extended through Bruno's proposed solution: Father, whom he wants to solve the problem for him, is in fact the perpetrator of the genocide taking place at Out-With.

In Chapter Eleven, the limited third-person narration is used in a flashback to reveal details about Bruno's family's situation. The person Bruno refers to as "the Fury" is clearly Adolf Hitler, or "the Furor," as Father and Mother would have referred to him. Though Father does his best to impress the Fury and impresses upon his children that they ought to do the same, Bruno judges him harshly as "a horrible man" (124). In the snippets of conversation that Bruno overhears between his parents after the Fury and Eva leave their home in Berlin, it is revealed that Father has no real choice in the matter of moving to Out-With. He tells Mother, " choice, at least not if we want to continue... what would happen is I would be taken away and treated like a..." (124). The specifics of the situation are omitted to leave the details open to the reader's interpretation. But the implication is that if Father refused the appointment, he himself would be incarcerated.

The theme of the Holocaust being unnatural arises again in Chapter Eleven, in a snippet of conversation Bruno overhears between his parents. Mother protests the move to Out-With by saying, " if it's the most natural thing in the world and it's not, it's just not..." (124). It's unclear whether she is talking about her family moving away from Berlin or the concentration camps themselves, but Boyne is drawing attention to the natural vs. unnatural dichotomy again. The Nazis used the argument that the Aryan race was "naturally" superior to all others, using the idea of natural dominance as justification in exterminating the Jewish population. But Boyne turns this assumption on its head, pointing out throughout the story just how "unnatural" the atmosphere and situation at Out-With really is.