“This isn’t home and it never will be,” [Bruno] muttered under his breath as he went through his door to find all his clothes scattered on the bed and the boxes of toys and books not even unpacked yet. It was obvious that Maria did not have her priorities right.

We are reminded throughout the text that Bruno is first and foremost a child. When the family moves to Out-With, Bruno says it can’t be home because home to him means a place to experience boyhood more than a place of shelter. His priorities are friends, exploration, and fun. He is interested in being a child, and he cannot fully experience childhood at Out-With. Bruno has no idea what a harsh and cruel place he has moved to. Instead, he is concerned only with the lack of comfort he is used to. This concern does not make him heartless, in fact the text shows him to be a caring child. Bruno’s desire for childish things is simply a reminder that he is, in fact, a child.

Shmuel looked very sad when he told this story and Bruno didn’t know why; it didn’t seem like such a terrible thing to him, and after all much the same thing had happened to him.

Bruno serves partially as a narrator for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but his observations of the place he calls Out-With come from his limited perspective. Bruno has no concept of what Shmuel has been through before and since arriving at Out-With. Bruno recognizes experiences like being made to leave his home against his will, but he does not have enough scope of human experience to understand why Shmuel’s situation is so much worse than his own, or even that it is worse at all. Bruno’s dissonance works as a narrative device because it reminds the audience that Bruno and Shmuel are children. Bruno is a child who has experienced discomfort, unpleasant and unexpected change, and shifting social dynamics. He hears those same experiences in Shmuel’s story and seeks to empathize with his new friend. Bruno is not cruel for not understanding; he is simply a child with regular childhood experiences and no reason to expect or imagine the conditions Shmuel has been forced into. The novel assumes the audience has contextual knowledge of the Holocaust, and so Bruno’s limited understanding throughout the novel serves as a lens to give the reader a fuller understanding of the situation.

“Well of course [what you think] is important,” said Bruno irritably, as if [Maria] was just being deliberately difficult. “You’re part of the family, aren’t you?”

Bruno always tends toward inclusivity. He knows Father thinks of Maria as an overpriced maid, but to Bruno, she is part of the family. He looks to Maria for advice and comfort, and he realizes she has a complex inner life of her own. His simple, unquestioning empathy is at the heart of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Bruno’s kindness keeps him from clearly understanding the world around him, but the narrator uses that misunderstanding as a filter through which to soften the violence the reader must confront as well as highlight how wrong that violence is.