80 pages 2 hours read

John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Bruno and Shmuel as Mirror Representations

Even though Shmuel appears relatively late in the novel, the title of the work indicates his presence from the outset and creates in the readers a sense of expectation in relation to Bruno, the protagonist. It is clear from the very first time Bruno and Shmuel meet that they will represent two sides of a single whole. When Bruno first encounters Shmuel, sitting “forlornly” on his side of the fence, he immediately and spontaneously “sat down on the ground on his side of the fence and crossed his legs like the little boy” (167), unconsciously mimicking Shmuel’s posture. This indicates a sense of solidarity and belonging, almost as if the boys have known each other from before. The ease of their initial conversation reflects their boyish curiosity and the fact that in the novel’s structure Shmuel acts as a Jewish counterpart to Bruno’s Aryan youth.

Additionally, Shmuel comes to represent Bruno’s unconscious and the knowledge that exists in his mind but is as yet inaccessible to him. This knowledge is inaccessible because he is very young and because he grew up leading a very sheltered life as a son of a high-ranking German officer during WW2.