The Boy in the Striped Pajamas | Study Guide

John Boyne

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 Aug. 2019. Web. 24 Oct. 2021. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, August 23). The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide." August 23, 2019. Accessed October 24, 2021.


Course Hero, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Study Guide," August 23, 2019, accessed October 24, 2021,

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Beginning of Change

The story begins in 1943 in Berlin, Germany, in the home of nine-year-old Bruno, the main character. He arrives home from school to find the family maid, Maria, packing his belongings. The previous week, German dictator Adolf Hitler had dined in Bruno's home and offered Bruno's stern father, a German military officer, a new position as a commandant (a commanding officer). Bruno's mother says the family must move away because of his father's new responsibility, all of which angers Bruno, as he does not want to leave his friends behind. Before the family departs, Bruno's father and grandfather, Matthias, argue with Bruno's grandmother, Nathalie, at a Christmas party over their differing views of working for Hitler.

Arriving at Out-With

A few days later, Bruno and his family arrive by train in Poland, where they move into an isolated house on a hill. The house is located near the Auschwitz (Out-With) concentration camp, where Bruno's father (Ralf) will be the commandant. The house is staffed by Maria and a butler named Lars, who is from Berlin. But there are also new servants, such as a former doctor named Pavel, who lives on the other side of a fence near Bruno's house. Herr Liszt tutors Bruno and his 12-year-old sister, Gretel; Lieutenant Kotler, an unlikeable subordinate of Bruno's father, is frequently at the house. Lieutenant Kotler attracts the romantic attentions of Gretel. Bruno initially hates the house and is homesick for his friends in Berlin. He and Gretel hope that they will be in Out-With for only the "foreseeable future," which they mistakenly assume means a few weeks.

Call to Adventure and Friendship

From Bruno's bedroom window, he and his sister observe a fenced area where a vast number of men and boys wear striped clothing. This situation excites Bruno's curiosity. He investigates the fenced area and eventually develops a friendship with an imprisoned Jewish boy named Shmuel. To Bruno, the clothing that Shmuel and others wear on their side of the fence resembles pajamas, hence the novel's title. Bruno does not understand why Shmuel has to live in a fenced-in compound or why he is so pale and thin. However, for about a year, the two boys meet at the same location, and Bruno brings food to share with Shmuel.

One day, Lieutenant Kotler brings Shmuel to Bruno's house to shine glasses. When Bruno shares a piece of chicken with Shmuel, Kotler beats Shmuel. Kotler is later transferred away from Auschwitz when it is discovered that his father fled Germany at the beginning of World War II.

Bruno's mother convinces Bruno's father to allow the family to return to Berlin. Bruno is sad at the thought of leaving Shmuel and goes to the fence to say goodbye. Before Bruno leaves, the boys plan to search for Shmuel's father, who has seemingly disappeared from the camp. Bruno puts on prison clothing that Shmuel has stolen for him, leaving behind his own clothes and boots at the fence. Wearing prison clothing and having a shaved head (as a result of a prior outbreak of lice), Bruno crawls under an unsecured section of fencing.

Same Side of the Fence

As Bruno and Shmuel investigate the camp, the conditions appall Bruno. He notices the sadness and fear of the inhabitants and the cramped dirty conditions of the dwellings. The two boys are herded into a large group of prisoners and forced to march into a dark, locked room (a gas chamber, though Bruno and Shmuel are unaware). In the days following, Bruno's parents and the guards are unable to locate Bruno. Eventually, his mother and Gretel return to Berlin. His father remains at the camp another year. He eventually realizes what happened to Bruno when he finds Bruno's abandoned clothing near the fence. In the end, Bruno's disgraced father, who is now indifferent to the German cause, is taken from the camp by German soldiers.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 From Bruno's window, he and Gretel see prisoners.

Rising Action

2 While exploring the fence, Bruno meets Shmuel.

3 Bruno's head is shaved because of head lice.

4 Shmuel and Bruno plan for Bruno to enter the fenced area.


5 Bruno faces trouble in the prison area with Shmuel.

Falling Action

6 Bruno and Shmuel are killed in the gas chamber.


7 Bruno's parents depart the camp in despair.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!