The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary and Analysis of Chapters Three and Four


Chapter Three introduces Gretel, Bruno's older sister, whom he refers to as "Trouble From Day One" (21). She is three years older than Bruno and he is slightly scared of her and her friends, who often say nasty things to him. He realizes that one positive thing about not living in Berlin anymore is that her friends are not around to bully him for being the smallest boy in his class. He comforts himself with the idea that when they return to their home in Berlin, he might be big enough that they won't make fun of him anymore.

Bruno runs into Gretel's room and discovers her arranging her dolls around her room. She has brought her extensive doll collection with her from Berlin to their new home. She tells him she brought them because Father had said they would be at their new home "for the foreseeable future." Bruno doesn't understand what that phrase means and they agree that it must mean "weeks from now" (24). Gretel agrees with Bruno that their new living situation is horrible. She tells him that the place is called "Out-With," and explains that the man who had done Father's job previously had had to leave very quickly.

Bruno tells her that the other children don't look very friendly to him. When she asks him what other children he is talking about, he stalls before telling her what he means. First, he walks over to the window in her bedroom casually, and realizes that her view is of the driveway and a forest beyond it. He indicates that she should follow him into his room, and she does. He tells her that the children are outside his own window, and she hesitates before approaching it to look out. When she does, she sees what Bruno saw at the end of the previous chapter.

Chapter Four begins with a description of the view from Bruno's window. There are boys, men, and elderly men living together without women of any kind. Gretel wonders where the women are. Directly beneath Bruno's window is a garden with flowers; beyond that is a paved area with a bench; beyond that is a wire fence that extends farther than they can see. On the other side of the fence there is no grass or greenery, only low huts and smoke stacks in the distance.

Unable to make sense of what she is seeing, Gretel assumes, "This must be the countryside" (33). She has learned about the countryside, with its farmers and animals, in school. She wonders out loud whether this is their holiday home. Bruno disagrees, pointing out that if it were a farm, there would be animals around, and there don't appear to be. The dirt ground also doesn't look as if it is capable of growing any food. Bruno wishes that Gretel would come up with an explanation and comfort him, but she doesn't.

Instead, Gretel wonders who the people are and what they're doing there. The boys and men are standing around, some working, some being intimidated by soldiers, some just staring at the ground "as if it was the sort of game where they didn't want to be spotted" (36). There seem to be hundreds of people, with huts extending into the distance. Gretel wonders why they would have moved here, to "such a nasty place and with so many neighbors" (37).

Bruno witnesses a group of boys huddled together, cowering from a group of soldiers. Bruno points out to Gretel that he was right about there being children, but Gretel says they look filthy and that she wouldn't want to play with them. She says she is going back to her room, where the view from the window is much nicer, and leaves Bruno alone. Bruno continues to watch the people out his bedroom window and notices that they're all wearing the same thing: "a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads" (38).


Boyne uses the technique of withholding information from the reader to build tension. At the end of Chapter Two, Bruno looked out his window and saw something, though the reader was not told what that was. In Chapter Three, he tells Gretel that he saw other children out his window, and she looks out herself to see them. But the reader is still denied a description of exactly what the scene is outside Bruno's window. In Chapter Four, the reader is finally provided with a description of the concentration camp.

Boyne continues to use capitalization and misnaming of recognizable things to establish Bruno's point of view in these chapters. Bruno's sister, Gretel, is described as being "Trouble From Day One" (21). In Chapter Three, Gretel tells Bruno that the place they are now living is called "Out-With," and this is what he continues to call it from this point on in the story. It is clearly a misunderstanding of the name "Auschwitz," but by refusing to name the concentration camp, Boyne avoids specificity to a certain extent. This allows the fable a sense of timelessness, extending beyond the specific situation at Auschwitz.

Gretel's character is dynamic throughout the story. When we first meet her in Chapter Three, she is clearly a child, though a few years older than Bruno. She spends most of her time arranging her dolls and has brought the entire collection from Berlin with her. Significantly, she is the one who tells Bruno that the name of their new home is "Out-With." This misnaming of the specific location marks Gretel as a child at this point, in contrast to the teenager she will grow into by the end of the story.

In the conversation between Bruno and Gretel, both naive children at this point in the story, Boyne creates dramatic irony. Bruno and Gretel do not know where they are, nor do they understand the concept of the war or of a concentration camp. But the 21st-century reader is meant to pick up on hints in order to put together what is actually going on. For example, when Bruno watches the people in the concentration camp outside his bedroom window, he notices that "a few stood near the huts in quiet groups, staring at the ground as if it was the sort of game where they didn't want to be spotted" (36). Of course, they do not want to be spotted by the Nazi soldiers, for fear of death. But Bruno can only make sense of this a kind of game that he might play himself.

In contrast to the technique of dramatic irony, Boyne sometimes encourages the reader to see the world of the story through Bruno's perspective. For example, when Gretel looks out the window and sees that he was telling the truth about the people outside, Bruno feels "quietly pleased with himself because whatever it was that was out there - and whoever they were - he had seen it first and he could see it whenever he wanted because they were outside his bedroom window and not hers and therefore they belonged to him and he was the king of everything they surveyed and she was his lowly subject" (32). The lack of punctuation creates a child-like "stream of consciousness" narration, leading to the hyperbolic conclusion that Bruno is the king and Gretel is his subject.