One day when Bruno comes home from school, his mother explains the family is going on a "great adventure" as his father's employer has a new job for him. They will soon be leaving their house in Berlin with their maid, Maria, their cook, and their butler. As he goes upstairs to help Maria pack, Bruno hears his parents argue in his father's office.
Upset with their new, smaller house, Bruno complains to his mother. Bruno sees a soldier carrying a box out of his parents' room and comments he looks too serious. Bruno looks out of his room window but, instead of the nice view of Berlin he used to have, he sees something that makes him feel cold and unsafe.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 1 & 2
Bruno's older sister, Gretel, doesn't like their new house either and explains the place is called "Out-With," which she thinks means "out with the people who lived here before us." Bruno shows her the children he can see from his bedroom window.
From Bruno's room, Gretel sees a huge fence encircling an area with no grass, some huts, buildings, smokestacks, and men. Gretel wonders who these people are and where the women are. They notice some people on crutches, some carrying spades, some dirty children, and some crying. Bruno notices everyone is wearing the same outfit: gray striped pajamas and caps.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 3 & 4
Bruno enters his father's new office and says he wants to go home. Bruno asks who the people outside his window are, and his father says they are not people at all. Bruno salutes him with "Heil Hitler" and leaves his office.
Bruno asks Maria if she hates the new house. After avoiding a direct answer, she tells Bruno his father always helped her when she needed, so she would never say a bad word about him. She also advises Bruno to keep his feelings to himself until everything is over.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 5 & 6
When Bruno decides to hang a swing from a tree, he finds some rope but not a tire. He asks for help from Lieutenant Kotler, who aggressively commands an old man who helps around the house, Pavel, to fetch him a tire. Later, Bruno falls from his swing. Pavel carries Bruno to the kitchen, dresses his wounds, and reveals he used to be a doctor. When Bruno's mother returns, she sends Bruno upstairs and tells Pavel that, if Bruno's father asks, he should say she attended his wounds.
Bruno misses his grandparents, and recalls how his grandmother, who used to be a singer, devised performances for him and Gretel to act in. He remembers how their last performance ended poorly, after his grandmother expressed anger at his father for wearing his new uniform.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 7 & 8
Bruno's father hires a tutor so that Bruno and Gretel can resume their studies. Herr Liszt comes to their house, teaches them history and geography, refuses to teach art and literature, and argues they should learn about the great wrongs done to the German people. Bruno explores outside his house and walks along the fence despite his parents forbidding him to do so.
After walking along the fence for nearly an hour, Bruno meets a skinny boy from the other side who wears striped pajamas and an armband with a star. Bruno learns the boy's name is Shmuel, that they were born on the same day, and that there are more boys their age on the other side of the fence. Bruno says he came from Berlin and Shmuel shares he is from a nicer place in Poland, where they both currently are.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 9 & 10
Before they moved, Bruno's father announced the "Fury" was coming for dinner at their Berlin house. His father unsuccessfully tried to correct Bruno's pronunciation of Führer, but Gretel explained he was Germany's leader. When their dinner guest arrived with his companion, Eva, Bruno noticed the man looked weaker than his father and had an odd mustache. Eva talked to the children, but the "Fury" said little and arrogantly went first to the dining room and sat at their father's place.
Shmuel tells Bruno his family had to start wearing an armband with a star, then they moved into a room with another family in a guarded area, and finally they were crammed into a train to Out-With, where soldiers took his mother away and forced him, his father, and his brother to live in a hut. Bruno often interrupts Shmuel's story to point out his father also wore an armband but with another symbol and that he also had to leave his house. When Shmuel asks Bruno for food, Bruno tells him to come over for dinner sometime. When Shmuel says he needs to go, Bruno promises to return.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 11 & 12
Every day after his lessons, Bruno takes Shmuel some food. When Bruno asks Shmuel if he knows Doctor Pavel, Shmuel says people on his side of the fence don't need doctors as the soldiers don't want them to get better. Then Bruno complains about Gretel's crush on Lieutenant Kotler, frightening Shmuel, who asks him not to mention Kotler.
One day, Shmuel appears with a black eye. Bruno asks to play on Shmuel's side, but he questions why Bruno wants to leave his much nicer side. Bruno asks why they wear the striped pajamas and, after learning the soldiers took their clothes, Bruno feels jealous that others get to wear pajamas all the time. After inadvertently mentioning Shmuel to Gretel, Bruno tells her Shmuel is an imaginary friend he talks about life with.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 13 & 14
Bruno finds Shmuel polishing glasses in the kitchen and gives him some chicken. When Kotler asks Shmuel if he stole food, Shmuel says Bruno gave him chicken, and Bruno says Shmuel is his friend. However, when Kotler asks how he knows Shmuel, Bruno says he never met him before. The soldier threatens to discuss the incident later, and Bruno feels ashamed for denying their friendship. Shmuel only comes to the fence a week later, with bruises all over his face. Bruno apologizes, and the boys shake hands.
Bruno is pleased when Kotler is transferred away. Bruno asks Gretel about the reason for the fence. She explains it keeps the Jews separated from them. Bruno asks if he and Gretel are Jews, and she says they are the opposite of Jews. Gretel finds lice on their hair, and their parents shave Bruno's hair off.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 15 & 16
After his mother insists she would like to go away and starts sleeping and drinking more often, Bruno's father finally announces he and Gretel will accompany their mother back to Berlin, as Out-With is not a good place for children.
After Bruno learns they are leaving, Shmuel only shows up three days later, unhappy as his father disappeared. Bruno offers to ask his father about it. Shmuel advises against it as soldiers hate the people on his side. Bruno tells Shmuel he is leaving in two days and laments never having seen Shmuel's side of the fence. When Shmuel lifts the fence and says Bruno still has a chance, Bruno suggests that, with his shaved head and striped pajamas, he could walk on the other side undetected.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 17 & 18
The following day, Bruno changes into the striped pajamas Shmuel brought him and crawls under the fence. When Bruno realizes the camp is not what he imagined and tells Shmuel he should go home, Shmuel reminds him of his promise to help search for his father. Bruno stays, but as they search for evidence, soldiers surround them and make them march into an airless room. Bruno takes Shmuel's hand and says he is his best friend for life. The doors close and the room goes dark and erupts into chaos.
Soldiers searched the house and nearby towns, and eventually one found Bruno's clothes by the fence. His mother and Gretel stayed for several months before moving back to Berlin. His father stayed for a year and became increasingly merciless. One day, Bruno's father came up with a theory of what happened, discovered the place where the fence hadn't been properly secured, and collapsed to the ground in shock. A few months later, other soldiers came for his father, and he surrendered.
Read a full Summary & Analysis of Chapters 19 & 20