And that’s the end of the story about Bruno and his family. Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.

These closing words of the novel have a fable-like quality that ironically emphasizes how little like a fable the story actually is. The novel’s title page refers to the book as “a fable.” The term fable refers to a short tale that is intended to teach a moral lesson. Like fairy tales, fables often take place at some unidentified point in the distant past. This storytelling strategy removes the narrative from any obvious historical or cultural context and hence enables the central moral to shine more clearly. When the narrator insists that “all this happened a long time ago,” he or she is referencing the tendency for fables to exist in the distant past. And yet, by the end of the novel, the reader understands that all the events recounted about Bruno and his family did not take place in some distant past. In fact, they all happened less than one hundred years ago. Furthermore, the events of the story take place in the very particular historical and cultural context of twentieth-century Europe. In these senses, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is no fable.

The novel also breaks with the fable genre in its use of realistic characters. Many fables recount stories of heroes or gods. Others, such as Aesop’s Fables, feature animal characters. The use of animal or other non-human figures in fables has the advantage of simplifying characters to one or two major traits, which makes it easier to clarify a moral. Consider the well-known fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Even though Tortoise is slow, he ultimately wins a race against Hare because he is consistent in moving toward the finish line. Hence the moral: slow and steady wins the race. By contrast, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas focuses on flawed human characters who have complex emotional responses to their circumstances. Such complexity makes it more difficult to determine a single moral lesson. Thus, it is not clear at the end of the novel who, if anyone, bears full responsibility for Bruno’s death. Although Father blamed himself, the truth is more complicated. The lack of a clear moral makes it more difficult for the reader to believe the narrator’s final claim that nothing like what happened to in the novel could happen again and leaves the reader with a sense of unease.