Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Discuss the relationship between Bruno and Gretel. Why does Bruno seem younger than nine? In a traditional fable, characters are usually one-sided. How might Bruno and Gretel be considered one-dimensional?
- At age 12, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the League of Young Girls, a branch of Hitlers Youth Organization. Why do you think she is not a member, especially since her father is a high-ranking officer in Hitler's army?
- What is it about the house at Out-With that makes Bruno feel cold and unsafe? How is this feeling perpetuated as he encounters people like Pavel, Maria, Lt. Kotler, and Shmuel?
- Describe his reaction when he first sees the people in the striped pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she says, Something about the way [Bruno] was watching made her feel suddenly nervous? (p. 28) How does this statement foreshadow Brunos ultimate demise?
- Bruno asks his father about the people outside their house at Auschwitz. His father answers, Theyre not people at all Bruno. (p. 53) Discuss the horror of this attitude. How does his fathers statement make Bruno more curious about Out-With?
- Explain what Brunos mother means when she says, We dont have the luxury of thinking. (p. 13) Identify scenes from the novel that Brunos mother isnt happy about their life at Out-With. Debate whether she is unhappy being away from Berlin, or whether she is angry about her husbands position. How does Brunos grandmother react to her sons military role?
- When Bruno and his family board the train for Auschwitz, he notices an over-crowded train headed in the same direction. How does he later make the connection between Shmuel and that train? How are both trains symbolic of each boys final journey?
- Bruno issues a protest about leaving Berlin. His father responds, Do you think that I would have made such a success of my life if I hadnt learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth shut and follow orders? (p. 49) What question might Brunos father ask at the end of the novel?
- A pun is most often seen as humorous. But, in this novel the narrator uses dark or solemn puns like Out-With and Fury to convey certain meanings. Bruno is simply mispronouncing the real words, but the author is clearly asking the reader to consider a double meaning to these words. Discuss the use of this wordplay as a literary device. What is the narrator trying to convey to the reader? How do these words further communicate the horror of the situation?
- When Bruno dresses in the filthy striped pajamas, he remembers something his grandmother once said. You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person youre pretending to be. (p, 205) How is this true for Bruno? What about his father? What does this statement contribute to the overall meaning of the story?
- Discuss the moral or message of the novel. What new insights and understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from reading this story?
- Discuss the differences in a fable, an allegory, and a proverb. How might this story fit into each genre?
RELATED NOVELS ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer; Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
Jacob's Rescue; Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin
Milkweed; Jerry Spinelli
Number the Stars; Lois Lowry
Tunes for Bears to Dance To; Robert Cormier
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
The official site of the memorial and museum at Auschwitz.
The Holocaust\Shoah Page
A map and discussion of the Nazi death camps.
Links to Auschwitz tour resources.
Hitler Historical Museum
The official site of the museum.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of David Fickling Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.