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The Fence

The fence that marks the boundary of Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp is a powerful symbol of division. The nature of this division is at once material and metaphorical. Materially, the fence functions to imprison European Jews, physically separating them from the non-Jewish population. Metaphorically, the fence symbolizes an ideological belief in the inferiority of Jews. The material and metaphorical aspects of the fence relate closely to one another. For instance, very different physical conditions characterize each side of the fence. Bruno’s side boasts a three-story house, trees, and a beautiful flower garden, all signaling prosperity and privilege. By contrast, Shmuel’s side features a large number of squat, bunker-like buildings on completely bare soil. These conditions signal poverty and destitution. The material and metaphorical divisions also play out in the novel through Bruno and Shmuel who live on opposite sides of the fence. Despite their apparent differences, the boys develop an unlikely friendship that ultimately enables them to transcend the division represented by the fence, though finally crossing it results in physical death.

Striped Pajamas

The people on the other side of the fence from Bruno all wear striped pajamas, a uniform that at once symbolizes their difference from Bruno’s family and sparks Bruno’s curiosity about them. As Shmuel informs Bruno during their first conversation, everyone on his side of the fence is forced to change into the striped pajamas upon their arrival at Out-With (Auschwitz). The requirement to wear striped pajamas recalls the period before Out-With when Shmuel and his family had been required to wear armbands bearing the Star of David. Just as the armband had done, the striped pajamas serve to identify the prisoners as Jews and hence as less than human. For Bruno, who remains too young to understand their symbolism, the striped pajamas excite his imagination and incite his jealousy. The pajamas seem unusual to him, and as a young boy who loves adventure stories, anything unusual sparks his curiosity. The pajamas also seem much more comfortable than Bruno’s own stiff clothes, and he wants a pair for himself. Bruno gets his wish when he disguises himself in an extra pair of striped pajamas and joins Shmuel on his side of the fence. Now marked as Jewish himself, Bruno dies alongside his friend’s people.

Mispronunciations

Bruno’s use of mispronounced terms like “the Fury” and “Out-With” symbolizes his childlike naïveté and his strong intuition. In Chapter 11, Bruno uses “the Fury” to refer to Father’s boss, Adolf Hitler. Bruno’s use of this name symbolizes his naïveté because the term represents his mispronunciation of Führer, a German word meaning “leader.” When Bruno has a difficult time pronouncing unfamiliar words, he simply replaces them with more familiar terms. Another important example is “Out-With,” which represents Bruno’s mispronunciation of Auschwitz, the name of an infamous Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Although these examples of mispronunciation point to Bruno’s childlike mind, they also symbolize his strong intuition. In mishearing Führer as “Fury,” for example, Bruno reflects his accurate perception of Hitler as an angry little man, one who succeeded in convincing many others to mimic his furious rage at the Jews. Likewise, in mishearing Auschwitz as “Out-With,” Bruno intuitively captures the purpose behind his new home: a concentration camp meant to do away with all European Jews.