80 pages 2 hours read

John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Symbols & Motifs

Striped Pajamas

The main symbol used throughout Boyne’s novel is that of the “striped pajamas”—grey striped uniforms the Jewish prisoners wear at Auschwitz. Since the novel utilizes a boy’s perspective, the author creates a symbol that combines child’s innocence with the horror of war. Bruno’s first glimpse of the striped pajamas brings up hopes of fun sleepovers, and he envies people who get to wear pajamas all day. The power of the symbol lies in the incongruence between how Bruno reads it and what the uniforms mean in the reality of the story. Boyne uses dramatic irony to show that while Bruno remains unclear as to the real meaning of the uniforms, everyone around him, including his counterpart Shmuel, understands the awful truth behind it. The striped pajamas are a means of erasing individual identities, and this connects to the title of the novel. By the end of the book, readers are not certain whether the boy from the title is Bruno, Shmuel, or a combination for both boys seen as a single entity. In that sense, once Bruno puts on striped pajamas, he becomes just another random boy who dies tragically in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.