Summary: Chapter 5

Bruno decided to speak with Father. He recalled that Father had left Berlin a few days early, leaving the rest of the family to finish packing up the house. As they left the house for the last time, Mother had stood in the empty hallway, shaken her head, and said, “We should never have let the Fury come to dinner.” Maria had been standing behind Mother when she said this. When Mother noticed the maid there, she grew afraid and tried to explain herself.

An official car drove Bruno, Gretel, and Mother to the train station, where they boarded a luxurious train car with only a few other passengers. Another train stood across the platform. It was heading in the same direction but had many passengers. Bruno wondered why some of the passengers didn’t board his train instead.

Bruno hadn’t seen Father much since arriving at Out-With since Father was always busy and surrounded by soldiers. Another group of soldiers was just leaving as Bruno approached Father’s office. When Bruno entered, Father seemed glad to see him. He asked Bruno what he thought about the family’s new home. Bruno said he didn’t like it and wanted to go home. Father insisted that home was wherever one’s family lived.

Despite Father’s attempts to convince him to give Out-With a chance, Bruno persisted in expressing his disapproval. He even asked if Father had done something wrong in his job and suggested that he could make things right by apologizing to the Fury. Father grew impatient and told Bruno once more to accept his new reality. Before leaving, Bruno asked Father who the people outside his window were. Father answered that those people were “not people at all” and that he needn’t worry about them. Bruno lifted his right arm in salute, said “Heil Hitler,” and left Father’s office.

Summary: Chapter 6

Some days later, Bruno lay on his bed looking at the cracked paint on his bedroom ceiling. He was complaining aloud to himself about how much he hated the new house when Maria walked in with a pile of clean clothes. Bruno had known Maria since he was three years old, and she had always been kind, quiet, and a diligent worker. Lonely and with no one else to talk to, Bruno asked Maria if she hated Out-With as much as he did. Maria silently considered her response then told Bruno that she used to enjoy the garden at the Berlin house, where she would sit in the sun to eat her lunch. Bruno tried to confirm this meant she hated the new house. When Maria said it wasn’t important what she thought, Bruno insisted it did because she was part of the family, and if the whole family wanted to go home to Berlin, then Father might relent.

Maria told Bruno that Father knew what was best and that she knew him to be a good man. She explained that Father had shown her great kindness in a time of trouble when she had needed a home, a job, and food. Maria’s mother had once worked as a seamstress for Father’s mother, accompanying her on concert tours. When Maria’s mother grew sick, Father paid for her medical expenses and hired Maria to work for him. When her mother died, he paid for the funeral. It was for these reasons, Maria told Bruno, that she would not say a bad word about Father. She told Bruno he should keep his feelings to himself and his head down until everything was over.

As Maria spoke, Bruno realized that the family’s maid had lived a life all her own and that he had never before considered her a whole person. Just then, Gretel burst into Bruno’s room and ordered Maria to run her a bath. Bruno objected that she could run a bath for herself, but Gretel insisted it was Maria’s job.

Analysis: Chapters 5–6

The exchange between Mother and Maria as the family moved out of the Berlin house points to the larger political stakes in the novel’s background. After the whole house had been packed up, Mother stood in the empty hallway one last time and contemplated the new life that awaited her and her family. When she expressed her wish that the Fury had never come to dinner, she acknowledged her disapproval of the family’s move. Mother’s comment might initially strike the reader as a harmless expression of frustration. After all, Bruno openly complained both before and after the move. However, the reader senses a greater danger attached to Mother’s disapproval. When she made her comment about the Fury, she didn’t know that Maria stood near enough to hear her. And as soon as she realized her comment had an audience, Mother immediately grew fearful and tried to make excuses to Maria, who in turn pretended not to have heard her. As Chapter 11 will clarify, the Fury is the leader of Germany, and hence the most powerful man in the country. Mother’s seemingly harmless comment could therefore be understood as treason and place her in great danger.

Read more about how Mother’s words express her disapproval of the Fury and the way his politics have affected her family.

The scene in Father’s office further clarifies the historical and political context in which the novel takes place. Three details stand out. The first relates to the soldiers leaving Father’s office. Bruno hadn’t spoken with Father since arriving at Out-With because groups of soldiers had constantly surrounded him. The presence of soldiers everywhere at Out-With clearly marks its difference from Berlin. The second detail relates to Father’s remark that the people on the other side of the fence were not really people. Father’s comment gives voice to the political philosophy that drove his work at Out-With and the German involvement in World War II more generally. The third detail is the most explicit and hence the most obvious. Just as he left Father’s office, Bruno clapped his heels together, shot his right arm out in a straight line, and proclaimed the words, “Heil Hitler.” This combination of words and actions constitutes the traditional salute of the Nazi Party, making it as clear as possible for the reader that the novel takes place during World War II and that Out-With is a Nazi concentration camp.

Read an in-depth analysis of Father.

Taken together, Chapters 5 and 6 introduce an important question about who counts as a person. In Chapter 5, when Bruno asked Father who the people on the other side of the fence were, Father answered that those people were “not people at all.” Father’s rejection of the term “person” to describe the individuals on the other side of the fence has a dehumanizing function. That is, by saying these individuals were “not people at all,” he denied the fact that they were flesh-and-blood humans. In doing so, he also denied them their human rights. As a nine-year-old child, Bruno had no context for understanding Father’s comment or its chilling implications. He therefore accepted Father’s remark without fully understanding it. However, in Chapter 6, Bruno begins to comprehend from his own experience what it means to think of someone as a person. After Maria told him the story of how Father had helped her in times of crisis, Bruno realized that Maria had an existence outside her work for his family. In other words, he suddenly understood that she was a person. Unlike Father, Bruno could see that individuals who were different from him were still people.

Read an in-depth analysis of Bruno.

Maria’s refusal to speak ill of Father’s work at Out-With indicates a willful ignorance that stems from fear. Bruno repeatedly attempted to get Maria to join in his complaints about the family’s new life at Out-With. Each time, however, Maria refused to speak against Father or his work. She justified her refusal to speak ill of him by telling Bruno of the many ways Father had helped her in times of crisis. However, this justification does not mean that she agreed with what was happening at Out-With. Maria made an oblique comment in Chapter 2 that gives a clue as to her true feelings. When Bruno complained that one of the soldiers in the house looked too serious, Maria responded: “Well, they have very serious jobs. . . Or so they think anyway.” The second part of Maria’s comment slyly criticizes the soldiers and their jobs. Yet despite her disapproval of the work going on at Out-With, Maria refused to speak against it directly. Instead, she intended to keep her head down until the worst was over. Fearing punishment for voicing a contrary and potentially treasonous opinion, Maria willed herself to remain ignorant and encouraged Bruno to do the same.

Read more about the guilt caused by silence as a theme.