Techniques used by John Boyne to portray holocaust in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”


In the setting of the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, there were a lot of bad things happening representing how back then, if you were a Jew, were treated horribly, as well as how old life that you would have had was gone. Your family would have been torn apart.  But it wasn’t just the Jews who were hurt: other people, including Bruno and his family were greatly affected in this dark age. In the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne uses the book to show the differences and divisions between the two main groups: the Jews, and the Nazis, using a variety of different techniques such as contrast and symbolism.

Technique 1

Firstly, in the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, when Bruno and Shmuel have a conversation, it usually highlights the different life experiences that they have been through. John Boyne uses these numerous conversations between Bruno and Shmuel to show the contrast between the life of two very similar young boys living their lives in very different ways on opposite sides of the fence. For example, in one of their conversations, Shmuel recounts his experience on the train: “The train was horrible,” “There were too many of us on the carriages for one thing. And there was no air to breathe. And it smelled awful.” But at the start of the book, Bruno goes on a train that has a lot of extra space and plenty of fresh air: “He and his family boarded a very comfortable train with very few people on it and plenty of empty seats…”. These quotes sum up the contrast between Bruno and Shmuel nicely: the haves and the have nots.

Technique 2

Secondly, in the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne uses various parts of the book to highlight the segregation and blind following in the book such as the conversation between Bruno and Gretel when Bruno asked “Are we Jews?” Gretel reacted in a shocked way, yet could only come to the conclusion that they are the “opposite of Jews”. Gretel’s overreactions to Bruno’s reasonable question shows that Gretel, and most young people living in Nazi territories at the time, were taught lies about Jews and how bad they are, despite there not being any real proof.

Technique 3

Lastly, John Boyne uses the fence as a literary technique in the Boy in the Striped Pajamas as a symbol that creates a division between the two

groups: the Nazis and the Jews. It also determines people’s opportunities in life because if you are a Jew one side of the fence you aren’t really allowed to do anything and all the things that you had in your past life before you entered the fence are gone. For example, at the start of the book Bruno and Gretel are looking down from the window to the other side of the fence and commenting about how bad it looks. “ I don’t understand,” said Gretel. “Who would build such a nasty place?” “ It is a nasty-looking place, isn’t it?” agreed Bruno.

At the end of the book, when Bruno is about to leave Out-with and Bruno and Shmuel are having their last time together, when Shmuel lifts the fence to allow Bruno to enter his side of the fence to “save” Shmuel’s father. Shmuel thought for a few moments and then reached down and put his hand under the fence and lifted it a little, to the height where a small boy, perhaps the size and shape of Bruno, could fit underneath. “Well?” said Shmuel. “Why don’t you then?”. The opening of the fence signifies the breakdown of the physical and metaphorical barriers that segregate the two main groups and the start of a bright, new era.


In conclusion, John Boyne uses the book, the Boy in the Striped Pajamas to show what happened a long, long time ago in Nazi Germany in a variety of different ways. My main points were: 1. The contrast between life as a Jew and as a Nazi. 2. The segregation between the groups and how they were taught to be enemies at a young age. and 3. The symbolism that the fence has as a barrier between the groups and how Bruno and Shmuel are breaking that barrier.

The very last paragraph of the book is John Boyne stating how these things that happened will never happen again. “Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.” This is wrong. These things do happen. Even though they don’t happen to the same degree, they are still happening today: The anti-semetism hate crimes in the US and Europe, the wars that ruin families and kill innocent civilians in Syria and Afghanistan, and the ethnically fueled mass genocide that happened in Myanmar and Rwanda in the past 25 years. It is important to know about what happened and what is happening to see why these things are wrong and to make sure we will not make these mistakes ever again.