[Shmuel] held his hand out and Bruno couldn’t help but notice that it was like the hand of the pretend skeleton. “I’d never noticed before,” said Shmuel. “It used to look more like yours, but I didn’t notice it changing.”
Shmuel and Bruno bond over their similarities and by sharing their life experiences with one another. Bruno notices how skinny and unhealthy Shmuel looks right away, but that observation takes up very little of the novel’s description of Shmuel’s identity when Bruno discovers him. Bruno, and therefore the reader, know about Shmuel’s appearance from the start. However, Shmuel has reached this point of malnutrition gradually, and he does not have a stark point of contrast to see what his life used to look like. When he realizes how skeletal his hands have become, he is caught off guard by his appearance. This moment happens while he is sitting in Bruno’s family’s house, polishing crystal for Father’s extravagant birthday party. When Shmuel is inside Auschwitz, everyone around him is in a similar malnourished state. However, when surrounded by a privileged life, Shmuel can see his suffering more clearly.
He tells me about his family and the watch shop that he used to live over and the adventures he had coming here and the friends he used to have and . . . about the boys who he used to play with but he doesn’t any more because they disappeared without even saying goodbye to him.
We understand Shmuel’s perspective through Bruno’s eyes. Shmuel recounts having his home, his neighbors, and his human dignity stripped from him, but Bruno picks up the details he recognizes. He calls Shmuel’s transport to Out-With an “adventure” and implies that Shmuel’s friends were rude to leave without saying bye rather than forcibly taken away without notice. Even though Bruno’s retelling skews the story and glosses over the immense hardships in Shmuel’s life, it does remind the reader that Shmuel is just as much a child as Bruno. Like Bruno, he has a family, a former home and friends he misses, and he wants his old life back. Shmuel has a fuller understanding of his tragic situation than Bruno does, but he still has all the stories and aspirations of childhood.
“They do [hate us],” said Shmuel, leaning forward, his eyes narrowing and his lips curling up a little in anger. “But that’s all right because I hate them too. I hate them,” he repeated forcefully.
For most of the novel, Shmuel withholds his true emotions from Bruno. He is careful not to do or say anything that could get him in trouble. However, when he grows to trust Bruno, Shmuel reveals his honest and visceral reaction to his surroundings. Hate is a strong word, particularly coming with such vehemence from a nine-year-old child. Shmuel does not say this lightly. From this conversation onward, when Shmuel asks Bruno to come help him look for his dad, we learn more of Shmuel’s courage and determination than we initially did through Bruno’s eyes.