1. Discuss the relationship between Bruno and Gretel. Why does
Bruno seem younger than nine? In a traditional fable, characters
are usually one-sided. How might Bruno and Gretel be considered
2. At age 12, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the
League of Young Girls, a branch of Hitler's Youth Organization. Why
do you think she is not a member, especially since her father is a
high-ranking officer in Hitler''s army?
3. What is it about the house at Out-With that makes
Bruno feel "cold and unsafe"? How is this feeling perpetuated as he
encounters people like Pavel, Maria, Lt. Kotler, and Shmuel?
4. Describe his reaction when he first sees the people in the
striped pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she says, "Something
about the way [Bruno] was watching made her feel suddenly nervous"?
(p. 28) How does this statement foreshadow Bruno's ultimate
5. Bruno asks his father about the people outside their house at
Auschwitz. His father answers, "They're not people at all Bruno."
(p. 53) Discuss the horror of this attitude. How does his father's
statement make Bruno more curious about Out-With?
6. Explain what Bruno's mother means when she says, "We don't
have the luxury of thinking." (p. 13) Identify scenes from the
novel that Bruno's mother isn't happy about their life at Out-With.
Debate whether she is unhappy being away from Berlin, or whether
she is angry about her husband's position. How does Bruno's
grandmother react to her son's military role?
7. When Bruno and his family board the train for Auschwitz, he
notices an over-crowded train headed in the same direction. How
does he later make the connection between Shmuel and that train?
How are both trains symbolic of each boy's final journey?
8. Bruno issues a protest about leaving Berlin. His father
responds, "Do you think that I would have made such a success of my
life if I hadn't learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth
shut and follow orders?" (p. 49) What question might Bruno's father
ask at the end of the novel?
9. A pun is most often seen as humorous. But, in this novel the
narrator uses dark or solemn puns like Out-With and
Fury to convey certain meanings. Bruno is simply
mispronouncing the real words, but the author is clearly asking the
reader to consider a double meaning to these words. Discuss the use
of this wordplay as a literary device. What is the narrator trying
to convey to the reader? How do these words further communicate the
horror of the situation?
10. When Bruno dresses in the filthy striped pajamas, he
remembers something his grandmother once said. "You wear the right
outfit and you feel like the person you're pretending to be." (p,
205) How is this true for Bruno? What about his father? What does
this statement contribute to the overall meaning of the story?
11. Discuss the moral or message of the novel. What new insights
and understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from
reading this story?
12. Discuss the differences in a fable, an allegory, and a
proverb. How might this story fit into each genre?