The Book Thief
Death As Portrayed in The Book Thief By Markus Zusak
The death of Werner, Liesel’s brother, further cements Death’s belief that pain is an unavoidable part of living. Liesel’s younger brother dies as a result of frigid temperatures on the train journey to their new foster parents’ home in Molching, Germany. Every night, the pain of her brother’s death causes Liesel to “wake up swimming in her bed, screaming, and drowning in the flood of sheets” from a nightmare about her brother’s death. Swimming while drowning symbolizes life — a painful struggle that ultimately ends with death. Liesel’s dream further demonstrates this innateness of human suffering because Werner’s death haunts only the living Liesel. Werner does not share the agony because he is not living, and therefore, not required to experience suffering. Liesel’s mother also carries the pain of Werner with her. Immediately after Werner’s burial, “…Liesel’s mother carried the memory of him, slung on her shoulder. She dropped him. She saw his feet and legs and body slap the platform…She picked him up and continued walking…”. Death’s poignant description of a painful memory indicates that the living carry burdens of horrible memories that they sometimes forget but always remember eventually. Contrary to humanity’s perceived distaste for pain, Liesel’s mother actually wants to remember, despite any suffering that comes from remembrance. She immediately remembers after she forgets because she loved her son and feels a duty to honor him. Her continued walking demonstrates that Liesel’s mother will carry the burden and anguish of Werner’s death forever. As one can clearly see, the death of Werner shows the ever-present nature of pain in human lives.
Death also demonstrates how living comes with omnipresent pain through the example of Max. Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster parents, secretly hide a young Jew, Max, in their basement. In order to survive, Max had to leave his entire family and has no idea where they are or if they are alive. When Max expresses to Leisel the pain of losing his family, Death bluntly states Max’s condition: “Living was living. The price was guilt and shame”. The use of the world “price” and short sentences indicate the brutal simplicity of Death’s truth. Life has a cost, and pain and guilt are the price. Death’s straightforwardness also implies that Death does not believe that life is worth the agony of guilt and shame. Humans assume that the pain of life is better than the mystery of death; however, the ever constant nature of suffering resides only in the living.
Another character that possesses great, innate grief because of the death of a loved one is Frau Ilsa Hermann. Frau Hermann’s son, Johnann, died during World War One “parceled up in barbed wire like a giant crown of thorns”. In the use of the crown of thorns, Zusak makes Johann a type of Christ, a martyr who takes away pain. However, in a perverse reversal, Johnann becomes a martyr who brings pain, especially to his mother. This ironic reversal demonstrates Death’s rejection that life in innately happy. Death further states, “I untangled Johann and carried him out”. Death untangles this suffering man from the pain of not only his physical ailments, but also the pain associated with life. Frau Ilsa Hermann, however, cannot unravel herself from the pain of life like Death disentangled Johnann. In fact, the death of Johann eternally haunts Ilsa. In order to perversely pay for the death of Johann, Ilsa purposely leaves the window of her library open every day to the cold air to induce self-suffering. This vicious attempt to bring outside pain to veil her original suffering clearly demonstrates that the whole of humanity must cope with anguish every day. Obviously, though the pain of living leaves through death, those that death affects but does not kill feel even more agony. Frau Hermann also becomes a symbol for the way that constant pain can affect the living. Liesel, when she first sees Ilsa Hermann, says that Ilsa was “a woman with startled eyes, hair like fluff, and the posture of defeat”. Those who experience horrible suffering and lack strength to endure it are scared, feeble, and broken. Liesel later describes Ilsa as “transparent…but there”. This imagery creates a woman almost deathly in nature. This skeleton-like woman creates a skewed notion of death and life. Those, like Ilsa, who let pain rule them lose life’s vitality and become death-like. Paradoxically, the constant agony of life makes one like a corpse. As one can clearly see, through leftover humans, the death and loss of family, and the deathlike nature of Ilsa Hermann, the symbol of death demonstrates that pain is a universal and omnipresent element of living.
Life, Not Death, Causes Pain
In addition to the fact that pain is an innate part of living, Death also reveals a further truth. Contrary to common sense, which creates death as bad and life as good, life, not death, is responsible for human suffering. One of the most poignant episodes to illustrate the kindliness of death and the cruelty of humans occurs during a “Jew parade,” a march of Jews through a town to a concentration camp. Death describes those marching in the parade: “…The Jews came down like a catalog of colors….They would greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke and their souls trailing behind”. The idea of a catalog of colors for death gives a sort of mournful individuality to the dying Jews, as if they are important to Death. To the Nazi’s, however, these Jews are worth nothing. The Jews greet Death like a true friend, which shows Death’s ultimate kindness toward each of the newly deceased. The bones of smoke represent the last of the Jews’ life that death has almost extinguished and the Johnson 5 ephemerality of life. The souls trailing behind indicate that the Jews have accepted the great possibility of death and exist now in a state between life and death. To further prove that life causes pain, Death uses images of life to show the Jews’ withering states. He says, “The dirt was molded to them…. Stars of David were plastered to their shirts and misery was attached to them as if assigned. ‘Don’t forget your misery…’ In some cases it grew on them like a vine”. Dirt and vines, both signs of life, actually choke out the living, which suggests that death does not destroy these people; the living do. The dirt decays the Jews. Furthermore, the Stars of David, once symbols of pride, now symbolize vines of shame that entangle, and suffocate the Jews. Obviously, life causes the pain and suffering, not death.
To further demonstrate that pain comes through life, Death describes an incident during the Jew parade. As the Jews walk, one man falls. Liesel believes he is dead. Suddenly Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster-father, runs to him, “holds his hand out and presents a piece of bread, like magic”. The juxtaposition of a simple piece of bread to the extravagance of magic indicates how cruelly life has treated this man. The Jew’s gratitude, however, is short-lived. Nazi soldiers whip the Jew six times; Hans, four times. Death assesses this situation: “If nothing else, the old man would die like a human. Or at least with the thought that he was a human. Me? I’m not so sure if that’s such a good thing”. Clearly, people like the Nazis are what Death loathes most about humans. When Death demonstrates his mixed-feelings about humanity, one can see from an external standpoint how cruel life — especially human life — can be. Furthermore, during another parade of Jews, Death again expounds that life causes suffering. After Max leaves the Hubermann’s house out of fear that the Nazis will find him and punish not only himself but also the Hubermann’s, Liesel sees him during a Jew Parade. She runs into the crowd of Jews to find him despite the soldiers’ attempts to keep her away. In a heartbreaking moment during their brief and chaotic meeting Max looks at Liesel and thinks to himself: “A great day to die. A great day to die, like this”.
When Max’s painful burdens lessen because he sees Liesel again, Max feels that it is his time to die because his suffering is gone. Max has suffered much in his life, and he obviously believes that one more small glimpse of happiness will be enough to make his life complete. He now feels ready to die. Undoubtedly, the life Max leads is full of human-caused pain and he feels his escape from pain will be death. Furthermore, although Death admires Max and Liesel’s love and gratitude for each other, Death is not as enamored with other humans because they make life painful. Death describes the bystanders who watch Max and Liesel’s exchange as “statues with beating hearts. Perhaps bystanders in the latter stages of a marathon”. Death’s utter tone of distaste for these humans who only watch others suffer proves that Death’s esteem for Liesel and her friends and family are the exception, not the rule. Like these average people who do not help those in need, no one watching a marathon actually helps the exhausted marathon runners. Death’s distaste for most humans stems from the fact that these people are alive and can do something in their life, but they choose to do nothing. These “statues with beating hearts” are not living according to Death because humans seem to not take advantage of their living. People often do nothing for others despite the hardships of life. Because they do nothing, life becomes hard and painful.
Another way the living cause the pain while Death eliminates the pain occurs when Michael Holtzapfel commits suicide. Michael returns from Stalingrad after injuring his arm and witnessing the death of his brother, Robert. According to Death, Robert’s “…legs were blown off at the shins and he died with his brother watching in a cold, stench-filled hospital”. The fact that the legs were blown off rather than another body part indicates a lack of movement and journey. Just as Robert cannot walk and eventually dies, Michael never can move past the fact that he lived while Robert did not and eventually kills himself from the guilt of living. Michael suffers because he is lives. The suffering from living, however, is only half the reason for Michael Holtzapfel’s suicide. The other reason Michael wants an escape from life’s agony occurs during an air raid soon after he returns to Molching. Still mourning the loss of Robert, Frau Holtzapfel, Michael and Robert’s mother, refuses to move from her house to the bomb shelter after she hears the air raid sirens. Michael hesitates to move to the bomb shelter because he does not want to leave his mother, but eventually departs from his home to seek shelter. Ashamed of abandoning his mother, Michael whispers to himself over and over again “‘I should have stayed…’”. This repetition indicates that he not only should have stayed with his mother, but that he also feels he should have died with Robert. Death states, “Michael’s voice was close to noiseless, but his eyes were louder than ever. They beat furiously in their sockets”. The reversal of different sensory organs indicates the chaos of Michael’s mind. He wants to switch places with his dead brother and his broken mother in order to take their pain, just as the eyes took the place of the mouth; however, this reversal is a perversion of the body. Michael asks Rosa Hubermann his dire question: “‘Tell me, Rosa, how my mother can sit there ready to die while I still want to live?’…‘Why do I want to live? I shouldn’t want to, but I do’”. This dire questioning demonstrates Michael’s true suffering and pain. He does not hurt because he wants to die. He hurts because he wants to live. The irony of this statement shows the true nature of life’s suffering. Pain comes in the most unexpected ways for the most horrible and ironic reasons. Even though his mother survived the air raid, Michael’s want to live, rather than the want to die, drives him to his grave. Death describes the suicide. “He was hanging from one of the rafters in a laundry….Another human pendulum….Michael Holtzapfel jumped from the chair as if it were a cliff”. The comparison from a body swinging from the rafters to a human pendulum demonstrates the pain of living. Oftentimes, life swings from pain to happiness. This constant switching of emotions for Michael from happiness that he lived to guilt that he survived ultimately drove Michael to suicide. The simile of a chair to a cliff shows the finality of his situation, his feeling that nothing can be done to save him, and, surprisingly, his courage for jumping from what seemed to him a cliff. Life and the want to live were the true reasons Michael killed himself. As one can clearly see from the Jew parades and Michael Holtzapfel’s suicide, life, not death, causes suffering.
As much as Death explores the pain of living as being completely terrible, Death ultimately admires the strength that comes from human suffering. During a particularly Johnson 7 harsh winter, Max, who lives in the basement, becomes deathly ill. Death, when he comes to take Max’s life, feels “an immense struggle against his weight” as Max attempts to fight Death. Recalling that instance, Death says, “I withdrew, and with so much work ahead of me, it was nice to be fought off in that dark little room. I even managed a short, closed-eyed pause of serenity before I made my way out”. Max has to suffer not only through this illness, but also throughout his entire life and this pain gives him strength to live and endure more pain. Though ironic that Death enjoys allowing Max to live, Death obviously admires humanity’s strength. Clearly, Max demonstrates that strength comes through suffering.
Moreover, through Liesel’s ultimate rejection of pain, Zusak proves that pain’s purpose is to provide people power. When Liesel visits Isla, Liesel often has visions of Werner. The pain that comes from the deaths of Werner and Johann bind the two booklovers together and thus open a more sensitive awareness of Werner for Liesel. After several months of reading in Frau Hermann’s library, Ilsa suddenly cancels the washing service that Rosa Hubermann, Liesel’s foster mother, provides for the mayor each week. Furious at Frau Hermann, Liesel screams, “It’s about time you faced the fact that your son is dead….He’s dead and it’s pathetic that you sit here shivering in your own house to suffer for it. You think you’re the only one?”. Painfully, Liesel thrusts her frustration, suffering, and grief about her dead brother onto Ilsa. Finally becoming tenacious through her suffering, Liesel realizes that one can grow from pain and that Ilsa Hermann is wrong to make herself suffer. Suddenly, Liesel has a vision that Werner is beside her: “Her brother was next to her. He whispered for her to stop screaming, but he…was dead, and not worth listening to….She shoved the boy down the steps, making him fall”. This vivid vision of her dead brother demonstrates how vicious and alive grief becomes, but also how powerful Liesel is. She is able to push away her agony like she pushes the vision of Werner down the steps of Ilsa’s home. Liesel’s rejection of Werner, suggests that she has become stronger than Ilsa, who always embraces her pain. Werner could rule Liesel’s world as Johann rules Frau Hermann, but Liesel refuses to let her pain, however innate and constant, dominate her life. Liesel realizes that she has experienced this pain in order to make her strong. Now that the suffering has fulfilled its purpose, she can move forward with her life. Even though Liesel undoubtedly still feels the pain, it has no control over her anymore. Clearly suffering makes one stronger. To contrast to Liesel’s new-found power, Ilsa becomes a foil to Liesel that shows the effects of pain on someone who does not desire strength to endure. Still angry at Ilsa for cancelling the laundry service and ruining their friendship, Liesel throws Frau Hermann’s parting gift, a book called The Whistler, at the door of Ilsa’s mansion. In response to the bitter gesture, “after a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book. She was battered and beaten up….Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips. Her eyes had blackened”. Miscarriaged connotes a death before life, a mistake or a mishap that leads to pain, suffering, and death. Liesel and Frau Hermann share much in common because both of their loved ones die prematurely and the women constantly suffer for it. Liesel can defeat Ilsa because Liesel has grown strong from her suffering, and she can finally see Ilsa for who she truly is — a broken woman who lets pain rule her life. Obviously, Liesel proves that pain, if one can rise above it and not give it control, can ultimately make on stronger.
The Book Thief By Markus Zusak
The grave digger’s handbook The Book Thief started with a girl named Liesel Meminger, who travelled to her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, with her mother. She unfortunately lost her brother, Werner, on the way and as she was by his grave, Liesel picked up a book – The Grave Digger’s Handbook. With her foster father, Liesel started to learn how to read and write in the house basement. Living on the Himmel Street, she also met Rudy Steiner, a neighbor who became her best friend. I enjoy how the author decided to personify Death, using Death to narrate the story. This seemed suitable as the book was set in Germany during World War II.
It was interesting to read the book from Death’s point of view as the reader could see the conflicted emotions within him or her. Despite being expected to be cruel, Death appeared to me as human due to his regret and pity. Furthermore, thinking about Liesel’s losses, I had easily put myself into her shoes and felt connected to the young girl. I was gradually getting a better understanding of how life was back then and had also started to use my historical knowledge to predict what would happen next. As the war went on, I knew that at some point, Liesel may be forced to bade goodbye to her father and best friend as they would be required to join the army.
The shoulder shrug Hans Hubermann continued to play the accordion for Liesel, calming her down when she woke up with nightmares. As her reading improved, Liesel’s passion for books grew and on the day of Hitler’s birthday, she stole a novel from the book burning festival. Realizing that Hitler may have taken her blood mother way, she openly admitted that she detested the leader. Hans, usually calm and caring, slapped Liesel across her face and warned her not to say that again. I feel like the author did a great job showing the reader how the war progressed. Instead of writing the facts directly, he used events to express the pass of time.
Furthermore, I admire how Liesel held on even though her life was going downhill with the rationed food and Hitler Youth requirements. Unlike many teenagers, I believe that Liesel was strengthened by her childhood tragedies and therefore became mentally stronger. In my opinion, Liesel’s desire for books also kept her lively as it gave her a goal and woke up the disobedience within her. On the other hand, Rudy Steiner was still a confusing character for me. Certain times, he would be a nuisance but as the story went on, he touched me with his caring for Liesel. Rudy and Liesel may become husband and wife in the future and despite their constant bickering, they would make a good couple.
Mein Kampf (My struggles) The mayor’s wife Ilsa Hermann had caught Liesel stealing during the book burning festival. Instead of punishing her, Ilsa invites Liesel into her house while the girl was picking up laundry for the wash. Liesel was taken into Ilsa’s library where she would later spend hours in. In another part of Germany, Max Vandenburg, a jew, makes his way to Himmel Street, Hans Hubermann’s house, with the help of his childhood friend, Walter Kugler. If caught, he would be sent to concentration camps. I don’t understand how the Jewish are different from the rest of the Germans. We are all human and therefore should be treated with equal rights despite our age, gender, race and religion. I truly feel devastated that thousands of innocent Jews were murdered with no good reasons. If I could time travel, rescuing Jews during the second World War would be one of my top priorities.
In contrast, I don’t believe it was the citizens’ fault that the Jews were gassed, beaten and shot. Hitler was the one who created the propaganda and he was the one who tyrannised the Germans if they disobeyed. Out of fear, it is normal for people to follow orders even if that means death for others. I just hope that there were more Germans who were not afraid to stand up to their leaders. A few more people could have made a big difference.
The standover man Max reaches his destination and Hans, along with his wife and Liesel hides the man in the basement. (The jew’s father, Erik Vandenburg, was a great friend of Hans during the first World War where they fought together. Before a battle, Erik had nominated Hans to help the general with his letters, in return, Hans wouldn’t go on the battlegrounds. None of the soldiers returned and Hans was the last of the troop alive. Erik had saved his friend’s life.)
At first, Liesel was scared of Max but then they started to exchange nightmares and the two became like family. When reading this section of The Book Thief, I was grateful for the Hubermann’s and Liesel’s risks. I was relieved that they were finally standing up to Hitler and doing what they believe was right. I admire how Liesel, despite her young age, was able to keep the secret and refrained herself from telling even her best friend, Rudy. She was mature for her age and understood how unfairly the Jews were treated. However, I pity her early maturity as her childhood was cut short. Being aware of the war, Liesel felt it was her responsibility to help the Jews and therefore spent time pondering for a solution. For me, her caring personality was a gift but a curse at the same time.
The whistler Due to financial problems, the mayor’s wife, Ilsa, dismissed Liesel’s foster mother for her laundry washing service. Feeling betrayed, Liesel started to steal from Ilsa’s library and scolded the women. No longer visiting the library, Liesel scavenged for magazines and handed it to Max. Together in the basement, Liesel would read while Max worked on crossword puzzles from the magazines. I understand how Liesel felt when losing her foster mother’s last customer but I believe that she needs to learn how to control her temper. It was not Ilsa’s fault that she was forced to fire Liesel’s foster mother; the war was what put everyone on edge. Furthermore, Liesel called Ilsa a coward, accusing her for not recovering after losing her son during the war.
In my opinion, to use someone’s soft spot against them is very wrong. I was disappointed that Liesel said those hurtful words as she had her own losses too. I had expected her to understand how difficult it is to recover from the death of a family member.
The dream carrier Living in the cold of the basement, Max fell seriously ill and was unconscious for more than one week. Worried sick, Liesel spent hours reading to Max even though he couldn’t hear her. She brought little, but meaningful gifts to Max and prayed that he would wake up. When Max finally recovered, Nazis parties went down the Himmel street, checking each basement to see if it were suitable for bomb shelters. Luckily, Max hid under the stairs and wasn’t discovered. For me, it was really touching to read about a girl who picked up items as useless as a candy wrapper to give to her sick Jew friend. I was struck by how caring Liesel was and loved how she could make one button count as everything. I also believe that I should learn from Liesel’s hopeful attitude towards life. Despite having lost her brother, she always found a way to make herself feel better and wasn’t afraid to face challenges. This is a quality that allowed her to live through the rough times of the second World War and that is what I like about her the most.
The complete duden dictionary and thesaurus When hundreds of Jews were marched down Himmel Street with German authorities, Hans Hubermann lost his temper and rushed forward to hand a starving man some bread. Accused as being a Jew lover, Hans was beaten along with the prisoner. Max, not wanting the Hubermanns and Liesel to risk themselves further, left the house during one night, leaving just a small message saying “You’ve done enough”. I have always marveled at how Max could survive in the basement with little company, knowing that if discovered, his life would be taken. For me, loneliness and fear is a pain that hurts more than many cuts and bruises. I admire how Max recognized the danger he had put Liesel in and I was surprised when he was willing to risk his life for the girl and her foster parents. I believe that most people put themselves in front of others as it takes lots of courage and bravery to sacrifice ourselves. Similar to Max, Hans also chose to help others despite risking his own life. Since the beginning of the book, he had been by favourite character and as the story progressed, I respect his love for people more and more.
The word shaker As Germany got desperate for men, Hans was required to join the Nazi Party. He was not sent to fight but to rescue people who were trapped underground after air raids. Once again, Hans experienced the horrors of the war, seeing mothers crying for their dead children. At Himmel Street, Rosa Hubermann gave Liesel a gift from Max, a hand-written and drawn story. Both of them missed Hans dearly and Rosa slept every night hugging her husband’s accordion. The more I read this book, the more I understood how terrible wars were. Families that deserved to stay together were separated, mothers lost their children and children lost their mothers. It was unfair that men, hoping to live with their loved ones, were forced to step on battlegrounds. I deeply wish that World War II would be the last of such tragedy. As technology improves, a third World War will wipe out everything. If a single bomb back in the 1900s can destroy a whole city, than a single bomb now can damage a whole country. In my opinion, wars are not the situation to any problems and therefore killing thousands of people would be useless. Life is precious and we cannot let disagreements ruin that.
The last human stranger Sitting on his appointed seat in the truck, Hans was pushed away by Zucker, a rival of his. When the truck started, its back tire got punctured and the vehicle flipped. Zucker, in the seat of Hans, was dead while Hans, in the seat of Zucker, got away with a broken leg. Due to his injury, Hans was allowed to go back home, much to the delight of Liesel and her foster mother. I was relieved when hearing that Hans would be coming home and felt lucky for the man. Not only did he escape Death twice, it was during the two largest worldspread wars of human history. However, if a soldier could be sent home with a broken limb, why didn’t men back then attempt to break their own legs? I feel like it would be certainly worth it. Despite the pain, they’ll be able to return to their families. Maybe the men back then didn’t want to be called cowards? Or they could have been so faithful to Hitler’s propaganda that they believed that fighting would bring them and their family honor? If I were them, I would just ignore the shame and embarrassment. Living is so much more important. Part Ten – The book thief With her foster father back, everything was perfect for Liesel. However, the Jews were once again brought through Himmel Street and this time, Max was one of them. Trying to support Max, Liesel was beaten like her father as she watched her Jewish friend get dragged away. During one night, the sirens had set off too late and the whole of Himmel Street burned. Liesel, writing in the basement, was the only survivor. All her loved ones were gone. I was really shocked when reading this part of the book. Never would I have imagined the author allowing Liesel’s foster parents and friends lose their life. She had already been forced to say goodbye to her blood mother and brother, I thought that was sad enough.
However, I understand why the author chose to end the book like this. As The Book Thief set during World War II, a “happy ending” wouldn’t be suitable. Even though many people survived the war, there were many cases of trauma: horrors of the second World War couldn’t be erased even though the devastating event had ended. This is why the many deaths in the book was what made the writing so realistic and therefore interesting to read. Without tragedy, the story wouldn’t be about a war.
Death And Trauma: Narratology in The Book Thief
The Book Thief published in 2005 is Markus Zusak’s fifth and most popular novel. Markus Zusak was born in Australia to German-Austrian parents who fled Germany at the time of the Second World War. The Book Thief is written in a German perspective. It is set in the fictional town of Molching in Nazi Germany. It tells the tale of nine year old Liesel Meminger and her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The Hubermanns are not like the rest of the people in their town as they are sympathetic to the Jews, hide a Jewish man, and loathe Hitler and his totalitarian regime. Zusak is one of the few writers to shed light on the rare yet present sympathetic outlook of the Germans. In The Book Thief, Zusak brought about a more sympathetic German perspective that was not often represented in Holocaust literature. He showed the viewpoint of a handful of people who were not in agreement with the Nazi ideology and who actually tried to do something to help those who were being murdered. Zusak created the Hubermanns in such a way that they represent everything the Nazis were not. Hans Hubermann is the kind of man who disowned his only son for being a Nazi, hid a Jewish fist fighter by the name of Max Vandenburg in the basement of his house and tried to help Jews in all the ways possible by him, for which he paid the price, as described in the book, “It happened so quickly. The hand that held firmly on to Liesel’s let it drop to her side as the man came struggling by. She felt her palm slap her hip. Papa reached into his paint cart and pulled something out. He made his way through the people, onto the road.
The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic. When it changed hands, the Jew slid down. He fell to his knees and held Papa’s shins. He buried his face between them and thanked him. Liesel watched.
With tears in her eyes, she saw the man slide farther forward, pushing Papa back to cry into his ankles. Other Jews walked past, all of them watching this small, futile miracle. They streamed by, like human water. That day, a few would reach the ocean. They would be handed a white cap. Wading through, a soldier was soon at the scene of the crime. He studied the kneeling man and Papa, and he looked at the crowd. After another moment’s thought, he took the whip from his belt and began. The Jew was whipped six times. On his back, his head, and his legs. “You filth! You swine!” Blood dripped now from his ear. Then it was Papa’s turn.
A new hand held Liesel’s now, and when she looked in horror next to her, Rudy Steiner swallowed as Hans Hubermann was whipped on the street. The sound sickened her and she expected cracks to appear on her papa’s body. He was struck four times before he, too, hit the ground. When the elderly Jew climbed to his feet for the last time and continued on, he looked briefly back. He took a last sad glance at the man who was kneeling now himself, whose back was burning with four lines of fire, whose knees were aching on the road. If nothing else, the old man would die like a human. Or at least with the thought that he was a human” (Zusak, 2013) (400-01). This extract in the novel says a lot about Hans and also Liesel’s relationship with him. Hans is clearly not weak or cowardly, as he is one of the few people in Molching who directly challenged Hitler’s regime. He is guided by his conscience, and suffered greatly when he felt he had acted in error. He is the kind of man who cannot stand to see others in pain, and at times this sense of empathy causes him to put himself and his family in jeopardy. Perhaps, it is this and selfless empathetic nature of her Papa that made him all the more endearing to her. When Liesel first arrived at the Hubermanns she had immense trouble to even talk with her foster parents as she had gone through psychological traumas like the death of her younger brother and the abandonment of her mother. Hans did what little he could do to help Liesel and in return Liesel noticed all the goodness in him that most people in such an environment thought was dangerous to have, as Death describes in the novel, “To most people, Hans Hubermann was barely visible. An un-special person. Certainly, his paintings were excellent. His musical ability was better than average. Somehow, though, and I’m sure you’ve met people like this, he had the ability to appear in the background, even if he was standing at the front of a queue. He was always just there. Not noticeable. Not important or particularly valuable.
The frustration of that appearance, as you can imagine, was its complete misleadence, let’s say. There most definitely was value in him, and it did not go unnoticed by Liesel Meminger. (The human child – so much cannier at times than the stupefyingly ponderous adult). She saw it immediately. His manner. The quiet air around him. When he turned the light on in small callous wash room that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot”. (40-41).
One aspect of Zusak’s novel that has received a large amount of critical attention and the thing that sets this story apart from many others is the choice of narrator. Zusak’s choice to represent the story through the eyes of a personified Death is unique. Instead of having Death be something malicious and worthy of fear, Death is instead frightened by humans and the terrible things they do to each other. The image that Death provides of itself is that of an omnipotent entity who observes Liesel’s experiences and makes comments about the human beings. Zusak enlightens the simplicity of the story by bestowing the mantle of the narrator to Death. Having Death as a character who witnesses what Liesel goes through allows Zusak to play with the book’s narrative structure as Death goes back and forth in time and seems to be everywhere in the world, as if Death is, by the force of its own nature, an omniscient narrator. Death is as important as any other character in this story and is always referred to as a proper noun rather than a common noun. When death means the end of life it is referred to with a lowercase letter and when death means the narrator it is referred to with an uppercase letter. The novel starts with Death explaining his role in general, and in particular, explaining which story he is telling and how he will structure it: “It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things:
- a girl
- some words
- an accordionist
- some fanatical Germans
- a Jewish fist fighter
- and quite a lot of thievery.
I saw the book thief three times” (15). In the first few chapters, Death keeps the narrative centred on himself, even though he is telling Liesel’s story. He is touched by the poignancy of her story and decides to revisit it and pass it on to the readers of The Book Thief. For example, he explains where he first met her, but with his own thoughts at the forefront: “I studied the blinding, white snow sky who stood at the window of the moving train. I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered. I buckled – I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched” (17). From the beginning of “Part One,” although he does interject quite often and explain the events surrounding Liesel and his own role in them, he moves in and out of focusing more explicitly on Liesel’s experiences, as read in the book that she had written that was dropped one of the last times that Death met her, in a street made of fire.
As Jonathan Klassen, Associate Professor in Sochoow University explains in his essay, Anything but Normal: Narrative Control in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, “He [Death] has apparently fallen so much in love with her [Liesel] story that he has imagined her story well past the facts of what he actually knows. The story he loves and relates is not simply Liesel’s story, but his version of that story. Put in other words, it is not the child’s story, but the adult version of the child’s story that compels him” (2). This brings to light two factors of the novel. The first factor is the position of the narrator in the story as a mediator for the stories he relates to the reader and the other one is Death’s acknowledgement of the trauma that Liesel goes through. All of Liesel’s trauma is unfurled to the readers through the eyes of Death and however strange it may sound it is certain that Death lives through Liesel. If Death is analysed as a narrator, it is clear he is not human, as he is not a living being. He is some kind of supernatural entity which escapes the full understanding of every human being, but, at the same time, Death is too similar to human beings, aggregating many human traits, such as moral pain (he suffers), curiosity (he wants to know Liesel) and perplexity (humans are so good and so bad). Besides all that, he is still able to use sarcasm. He may not be a human, but he for sure behaves like one.
The Book Thief Analysis
The book I chose to read over the summer was “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. I chose this book after reading “Resistance Lit: Meg Waite Clayton on Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief”, an article on LitHub. I had originally watched the movie when it was released in 2013, so when I came across this article on Lithub I thought to myself, what a better time than now to actually read the book and broaden my understanding on the story “The Book Thief.” I thought this story was interesting because I got a different perspective than most books, I got the perspective of Death. As I finished up the book there was one line that really struck me, “I am haunted by humans.”
“I am haunted by humans”, five words from Death himself that wrapped up the story completely. I thought the placement of this line, as the last line of the story was placed perfectly. Throughout the entire story death is mentioned on every page, whether it’s the actual death of someone or just the word death itself. Since this story takes place during the holocaust we know that there were many lives taken, taken by Death. Death during this times sees the best and worst of people. He sees the inhumane things that people can do to each other,he sees the random acts of kindness and love, but the thing that haunts him the most is the heartache that people endure after the loss of a loved one. At the beginning of the book, Death expresses that it’s easier to be dead than to be alive and deal with the loss of a loved one.This lines supports the concept that Death in a way almost feels guilty for his actions and the actions of humans. I genuinely don’t feel as though death liked taking the lives of people, it was just more apart of the “job”.
This quote resonates with me in two very different ways. My first initial reaction was realization. It made me think of all my decisions, both positive and negative, but there was a bit more of a spotlight on my negative ones. Was I being haunted by my own decisions? I think in a way we are all haunted by our own decisions. We live in a very black and white world, but decisions are neither black or white, they are grey. There is no way to say that one decision is better than the other because that opinion lies in the eye of the beholder. On a lighter note, my second reaction to this quote is a bit more humorous than the first. I watch a lot of Ghost Adventure, and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Us humans always fear ghost and death and feel as though they are both out to get us, that they are haunting us, but we have never put ourselves in Death’s shoes. What if Death feels as though we are out to get them , that we are haunting them.
Main Ideas Of The Book Thief Novel
- The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany from 1939-1943. The bulk of the story takes place in Molching, a suburb of Munich. The main characters live on Himmel Street.
- Himmel Street is very tight knit. The children and the adults all seem to know each other.
- The whole country is draped on Nazi propaganda. Prisoners from the concentration camp are marched through. One store won’t aserve customers unless they “Hile Hitler.”
- Liesel – Liesel is the main protagonist. She has been placed into a foster home on Himmel Street. Much of the begininning of the novel deals with her transition. Her brother was to be placed with her, but he died on the train to Munich. She is very fiesty and free spirited. She’s not afraid to break the rules. Her best friend is Rudy Steiner.
- Hans – Hans is Liesel’s foster father. He is a painter and an acordian player by trade. He is very tall. He fought in WWI. He has two adult children. He does not support Hitler or the actions of the Nazi Party. He is calm and collected and rarely gets angry.
- Rosa – Rosa is Liesel’s foster mother and Hans’s wife. She is a homemaker and washwoman. She often complains of people who cancel their washing service. She is fiery and bossy. She uses a great deal of profanity.
- Max – Max is the son of a Jewish man that Hans served with in WWI. He is forced to leave his family on Kristalnacht. He travels in disguise and is hidden by the Hubermanns. He is angry and guilt ridden for leaving his family. He suffers from nightmares and he and Liesel share theirs when they cannot sleep. He eventually leaves when Hans gives bread to an old Jew.
- Rudy – Rudy is Liesel’s best friend. He lives on Hummel Street and attends the same school. He is obsessed with running, Jesse Owens, and Liesel. He has six brothers and sisters. He is very motivated.
- Ilsa – Ilsa is the wife of the mayor of Molching. She was initially a customer of Rosa’s. She saw Liesel steal the book from the burn pile and allows her into her private library to read. She eventually cancels her washing and this damages her relationship with Liesel. Ilsa is very quiet and rarely leaves her house. She has been traumatized by the death of her child.
Liesel Meminger is traveling by train to a suburb of Munich to be placed into a foster family with her brother. Her brother dies suddenly and she and her mother stop to bury the body. While stopped, she finds a book in the graveyard entitled, “The Gravediggers Handbook.” She takes this book with her to Munich. Upon arriving with her new foster family, she initally refuses to enter the house. Her foster father is Hans Hubermann, a painter and acordian player. Her foster mother is Rosa Hubermann, a homemaker and washwoman. They are older and already have two grown children. She does finally enter the house, but continues to suffer from nightmares. Hans would come and sit with her and read to her until she calmed down. She enrolls in a Catholic school, however she is very behind and placed with much younger children. She is very unhappy about this. She continues to read with Hans and slowly she begins to learn more. Eventually she is moved to her correct year. She plays with neighborhood children. They play soccer in the streets. On Hitler’s birthday in 1940, Liesel steals her second book from a burn pile. This act is witnessed by Ilsa Hermann. She begins to allow Liesel into her private library. Hans is contacted by the son of a Jewish man that he served with in the war asking for shelter. Hans agrees and Max begins to live in their basement. Liesel and Max begin to form a friendship over their respective traumas. He eventually writes a book for Liesel called the Standover Man. He has to leave when Hans gives bread to an old Jew. This action also led to Hans being drafted into the army. He serves for some time and is eventually sent back to Munich when he breaks his leg in a crash. Soon after, Liesel sees Max being marched to a concentration camp. She speaks to him ad they are both whipped for it. She then attempts to give up books. Ilsa gives her a blank book and tells her to write her story. She was doing this in her basement during an air raid which kills everyone she loves. She goes to live with Ilsa and the mayor and frequently helps in Rudy’s father’s store. Eventually, Max returns and they are reunited.
- Bravery – Bravery is in nearly every character of the story. Liesel for stealing books, Max for escaping, Hans for standing up to Hitler, and even Ilsa for letting go of her sadness.
- Perseverance – The characters of this novel were preserverant in many ways. Liesel continued to steal books even though she new the risks. Hans hid Max, even though he knew the risks.
- Language – Throughout the story, Liesel learns the power and importance of words. She arrived on Hummel Street illiterate and grew to be a skilled reader. This leads her to understand that Hitler’s propoganda are the source of his power and that he is the reason her mother and father are dead.
- Theft – Theft is one of the overbearing themes, which makes sense, given that the book is called, The Book Thief. Theft is a form of rebellion for Liesel. It is a way for her to stand up to Hitler and the gestapo. It is also a way to get back at Ilsa for firing Rosa.
- Voice – The novel is told through a conscious narrator. The narrator is death, a metaphysical being that observes everything that occurs in the novel. He provides his own commentary and thoughts about events. He “does not like suprisises” and that is reflected in the way that he tells the story somewhat out of order at times.
- The accordion – Hans’s accordion is a symbol of hope and rebirth. It initially provides this to Liesel upon her arrival to Himmel Street. We learn later that it was given to Hans by the man who saved his life.
- Colors – Colors are a big part of the novel due to Death’s facination with them. He suggests by focusing on the color of the sky when a person dies that there is a connection between the death of an individual and nature.
An Issue Of Literary Theory in the Book Thief, “Drops of Jupiter,” and The Pianist Novels
When coming upon a new book, watching a movie, or hearing a new song, a person is exposed to many components of the literary theory list without even knowing it. Through the traits of this list, a piece of literature can leave a reader astounded. Without it, the literature may be unremarkable or confusing. Literature is defined by the reader and how they are affected; if literary theory is not present, no one will want to read, see, or hear it. The literature must be able to keep the audience’s attention and have them walking away satisfied, rather than exhausted, in order to become a great work. The song “Drops of Jupiter,” the book “The Book Thief” and the movie “The Pianist” are three examples of how each component of the literary theory list is critical to obtaining a reader connection and producing a memorable piece.
The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, is a story of Liesel Meminger, a German living with a foster family during WWII. In this novel death itself is the narrator and documents everything it sees. Liesel loses and sacrifices many things in her life all at a very young age. Both of her parents are taken away and her younger brother dies on the train to their hiding place, which significantly affects Liesel’s life. At her brother’s gravesite she finds The Grave Digger’s Handbook, and takes it, although she cannot read. The Hubermann’s also agree to house their late Jewish friend’s son, Max. This makes the household very dangerous to live in, for consequences of hiding Jews were deadly. Soon Liesel’s foster father, Hans, finds the book that she stole and is inspired to teach her how to read. Liesel soon discovers that Hitler is behind her parents’ and brother’s death, which entices her to steal multiple books from a book-burning pile in town and the mayor’s library. The story continues to where Hans sends Max away in fear of the Gestapo searching his house and Hans is drafted into the German army. Eventually Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife, grants Liesel a blank book in which she writes her autobiography. This book is found by Death after Liesel’s entire family die from a Himmel Street bombing. Death returns the book to her as he takes her soul in her old age. The literary theory used in this book is vast. Most importantly, the vicarious experience in The Book Thief is the most significant literary theory trait used. Because a book is usually narrated by a human character, having it narrated by Death exposes the reader to the trauma and pure inhumanity of Nazi Germany. Factual and historical information are obtained many times throughout reading, for example when Death says “Picture yourself walking down Himmel Street…the sirens begin to howl…in Molching the warnings came with bombs…a few minutes, everything is gone” (pgs. 529-530), the reader can encounter firsthand this experience that was very common in Nazi Germany. Throughout the novel, the reader feels many emotions and an understanding of the other side of World War II. Therefore the reader, compelled by vicariousness, empathizes with Liesel and her family. Zusak makes the audience feel like they are a part of Liesel’s family and that is what makes it a fantastic piece of literature.
Another very symbolic and moving piece is the song “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. Written in 2001 by Patrick Monahan, it is a song that reveals a hidden pain. Due to its unique and enigmatic lyrics, the meaning of the song has been the subject of speculation since its release. However Monahan himself stated that the hurt exposed by the song is that of his mother’s death, who was suddenly struck with cancer and could not live to fight it. Monahan states that the lyrics of the song came to him in a dream, and when he woke up the words “back in the atmosphere” were in his head. This inspired him to write the Grammy winning song “Drops of Jupiter”. The literary theory presented in this rock ballad helps the listener to connect their own lives to that of Monahan. Although some may not know what the song is precisely about, it is widely relatable to an audience that has lost a loved one. This improves the “connection” between the singer and their audience. What makes this song truly beautiful is the many metaphors used to enhance the promotion of thinking and enjoyment for the audience. The line “And tell me, did Venus blow your mind? Was it everything you wanted to find? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?”(Train) are alluding to the idea that Monahan’s mother is traveling through space, soul searching. He is happy for her but also wants to know if she is thinking about him. Another strong line, “Tell me, did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is overrated?”(Train) is so powerful because it challenges the idea that heaven is the epitome of afterlife. Overall, Monahan wrote the song to help remind him that no one is really ever gone. This song makes the audience question afterlife, allows them to comfort grievances, and encourages them to reflect on their own existence. Without literary theory these traits would be meaningless and “Drops of Jupiter” would not be the legendary song it is today.
The Pianist is a drama directed and produced by Roman Polanski. The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by the real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman. The story begins with a Polish Jewish piano player, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who lives in a large flat with his wealthy family. They believe that the Nazis are a mere nuisance and do not worry much about them. Soon however, during one of Szpilman’s recitals the radio station he is at is bombed. During the early stages of Nazism, he plays piano at an upscale restaurant for Germans and seems to go about with hardly any worries. Not long after, his family is ordered to be deported to a concentration camp. Luckily a German friend of his pulls him out of the line to the train, saving his life but also separating him from his family. He is told to go into hiding immediately. Szpilman hides for years in isolation, ravaged by hunger and painstakingly silent. Eventually there is a German attack on the building he is staying in and he moves to another building, where a German soldier finds him trying to open a can of food. Surprisingly the officer asks Szpilman to play piano for him and it brings him to tears. The soldier brings food to Szpilman and eventually his coat to keep him warm. When the Russians take over Germany, he is wearing the coat and is shot but only wounded, being mistaken for a German. At the film’s end, he has gone on to succeed as a pianist. What is great about this film is that the viewer gets to see the point of view from someone left behind rather than taken to a concentration camp. This promotes thinking in reminding the audience that the Holocaust did not only affect those who were at camps. In the movie, a woman is rocking her baby and wailing, “Why did I do it?” over and over again, because she had to smother her baby to stop it from crying. The raw reality of WWII in The Pianist is shockingly bewildering, to the point where the audience is brought to tears in compassion with the characters However, Roman Polanski presents the film in such a fashion that the viewer cannot help but be drawn in, and thus feels more involved with the themes inherent than they otherwise would have been. This film falls under the literary theory trait “entertainment”, for a viewer is entertained by the drama and action in the movie while subconsciously appreciating the biographical ties. The Pianist can open someone’s mind by giving them a good insight into human nature and the desire to survive, which often transcends all other desires.
The Book Thief, “Drops of Jupiter,” and The Pianist are all exceptional works of literature. Each is unique; however they would not have been successful if they did not encompass the traits of literary theory. Literary theory helps the audience better understand the literature through analysis in order to gain the knowledge that the writer is trying to get across. It is literary theory that opens up the author to the audience, a mind to new ideas, and enhances understanding. It makes literature memorable and can impact someone’s life by helping them better understand the world around them. As best said by a famous author, “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become” (C.S. Lewis).
Hidden Motives in The Book Thief By Mark Zusak
The competitors took their marks. Butterflies fluttered through the stomachs of every runner, except for one who was very confident. The competitors got set. The confident man could feel the eyes of Hitler lurking upon him. The competitors took off. In the blink of a German eye, Jesse Owens had crossed the finish line with little competition. During the 1936 Olympics otherwise known as “The Nazi Olympics,” many experienced a very peculiar outcome. Those who attended 1936 Olympics saw the dominance of Jesse Owens in many events. Throughout the writing of The Book Thief, Mark Zusak depicts the events of the 1936 Olympics very well, using the dominance of Jesse Owens, the reaction of Hitler and racism as a central focus. The well-written textual evidence from Zusak is supported by many other scholars. Specifically, Zusak is supported by Michael Mackenzie, The Historical Learning Site and Anthony Paul Farely.
As one looks into the words of Michael Mackenzie in the article “From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia” of Critical Inquiry the reader can see that throughout the writing of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak portrays the events of the 1936 Olympic very well. When Zusak writes about Rudy Steiner idolizing Jesse Owens he makes it known that during the 1936 Olympics, though his skin color was not , Jesse Owens was a hero. Zusak says that “Even the most racist Germans were amazed with the efforts of Owens, and word of his feat slipped through the cracks” (Zusak 56). Unmistakably, Zusak illustrates a taste of the 1936 Olympics. Michael Mackenzie confirms Zusak’s claims throughout his article “From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia.” When Mackenzie writes about the events of the 1936 Olympics, the heroic efforts of Jesse Owens also appear. Mackenzie says,“… and if there is a single individual who draws the most attention, it is a black American, Jesse Owens—the symbol, the personification of all that contradicted Hitler and his theories of a master race.” Obviously Mackenzie agrees with Zusak’s portrayal of the 1936 Olympics.
Not only does Michael Mackenzie agree with historical accuracy Zusak uses about the 1936 Olympics, but there is also parallelism between The Book Thief and the Historical Learning Site. Zusak continues to write about the total and complete dominance of Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics. He also begins to write about how Hitler responded to Owens’ dominance. Zusak writes that, “Jesse Owens had just completed the 4x100m relay and won his fourth gold medal. Talk that he was subhuman because he was black and Hitler’s refusal to shake his hand were touted around the world” (Zusak 56). Obviously, Zusak displays that Jesse Owens had an outstanding performance during the 1936 Olympics in which he hardly had competition. Consistently, people saw the dominance of Jesse Owens and the disgust of Hitler during the Olympics. Zusak emphasizes on these events which shows the historical accuracy in The Book Thief. The Historical Learning Site echoes Zusak’s evidence in its article entitled “The 1936 Berlin Olympics.” The site also emphasizes the dominance of Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics. It says that, “The ‘racially inferior’ Owens won four gold medals; in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay… Hitler refused to place the gold medal around Owen’s neck” (www.historylearningsite.co.uk). This site clearly supports the textual evidence from The Book Thief. It reiterates the dominance of Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics and also the complete irritation of Hitler. Hitler was becoming very annoyed by Jesse Owens, who was not Aryan, winning everything he competed in. A man by the name of Balder von Shirach claimed Hitler said this after the 100m victory of Jesse Owens: “The Americans should be ashamed of themselves, letting Negroes win their medals for them. I shall not shake hands with this Negro…….do you really think that I will allow myself to be photographed shaking hands with a Negro?” Hitler was irate that an African American man was dominating everyone, including the Aryans whom he considered the perfect race. Zusak includes this type of reaction from Hitler in his writing which also shows the historical evidence in The Book Thief.
The textual evidence of Markus Zusak that makes the illustration of the 1936 Olympics is also backed up by Anthony Paul Farley in The Bitter Tears of Jesse Owens. During the 1936 Olympics, there was a multitude of racism in the atmosphere. Jesse Owens had to deal with this problem a lot throughout his career. When Zusak writes about the racism during this time through the conversation of Rudy Steiner and his father, it is clear that it was a big deal. Rudy says, “I just wish I was like Jesse Owens, Papa” (Zusak 60). Rudy’s father responds by saying, “… you’ve got beautiful blond hair and big blue eyes. You should be happy with that; is that clear” (Zusak 61)? Clearly, Rudy’s father does not want him to follow in the footsteps of an African American man because in that time, those who had blond hair and blue eyes were supposedly superior. This object of racial discrimination was very prominent in the life of Jesse Owens. He witnessed many people die because of the color of their skin. In Farley’s The Bitter Tears of Jesse Owens, Jesse Owens reminisces “soul shattering” idea of lynching a human. He says, “When in doubt about anything, murder a Negro … Only this time one of the men they hung had a wife who was eight months pregnant…Only they didn’t tighten the knot enough to kill her, just to dangle her above the fire they’d made so she’d slowly burn to death” (Farley 236). It is obvious that racism was a vast problem during the 1936 Olympics. Jesse Owens had to deal with it a lot, specifically when he became more successful.
Throughout The Book Thief, Markus Zusak gives his reader an amazing illustration of the 1936 Olympics and retains much historical accuracy. Zusak uses Jesse Owens’s dominance in the Olympics, Hitler’s reaction and Racism as a guide to give his readers a taste of the 1936 Olympics. Scholars in many fields agree with the writing of Zusak and agree that it is historically accurate. Michael Mackenzie supports Zusak’s ideas on the dominance of Jesse Owens in the Olympics. The Historical Learning Site supports Zusak’s claims about Hitler’s reactions to the dominance of Owens. Finally, Anthony Paul Farley supports Zusak’s textual evidence revealing the racism during the 1936 Olympics. Although he was not in attendance at the 1936 Olympics, through his textual evidence of historical accuracy it makes it seem as if he was sitting in the front row watching Jesse Owens fly by the finish line with no other competitors in his radius.
Zusak’s Death Breaks the Mould
In The Book Thief, Zusak expounds upon the concept of death as a passive force and not a vengeful creature. Zusak presents the character Death in a manner that is more effectively conceived than the traditional rendition of Death’s personae. This unconventional characterization is validated by the realization that dying is a natural occurrence whereby Zusak’s Death does not hunt, but merely collects souls whose times have run out.
Zusak first touches upon the topic of human demise when Death states in the beginning of The Book Thief “A small fact: You are going to die” (3). Almost immediately upon opening the book, the reader sees that Death is the narrator, and they are surrounded with an aura of distress. However, the character of Death quickly proves not to be as cruel and heartless as his scythe-wielding counterpart. Death states that he is “not malicious. I am not violent. I am a result.” (6). Zusak’s Death does not methodically or whimsically reap the souls of the miscellaneous peoples he happens to come across. Rather, he approaches the souls when the time is appropriate and unavoidable, and leaves behind the souls’ survivors with an apologetic air. When presented in this benign, passive manner, and not as a hunter or malefactor, the character Death effectively mimics the actuality of dying.
The character Death also does not choose the time, place, or manner in which a person dies. Instead, he is merely a means of collection and transportation for the souls. There are multiple instances in The Book Thief when Death questions the way a person’s life has ended.
One example of this is when Death refers to the passing of a young German boy named Rudy. On page 241, Death makes a side note in the text, saying “A Small Announcement About Rudy Steiner: He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.” This selection brings multiple subjects into question, one of which is the matter of emotions. By saying that Rudy died unjustly, Death implies that he believes Rudy deserved better, which, in turn, leads the reader to conclude that Death cared about the fate of this little boy. There are also numerous references to Death questioning the cruelties bestowed upon the vast amounts of Jewish souls he carries in his arms, and there are a few times he questions the point of the reckless killings that make him terribly busy. Also, it appears that people died whom Death would have preferred to have live. He asks, “Did they deserve any better, these people? How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?” (375). Death’s questions express the uncertainty he faces while performing his job, as well as his innocence concerning the actual deaths of the people whose souls he collects. He questions the necessity of the blameless’ demise with a hint of sorrow. This disquiet proves that Death is neither malicious nor violent, just as he claims earlier in the book. The traditional rendition of death personified involves malicious intent and cruelty. In keeping with unconventional characterization, however, Zusak’s Death shies away from the gore and pain he is commonly associated with.
In conclusion, Zusak’s representation of Death is more effectively perceivable due to Death’s empathetic appearance as a bystander and not a destructive hunter, out to destroy mankind. Portraying Death as an emotive creature who is riddled with regrets opens the doorway for readers to explore the notion of Death standing in the contradictory position of a “humane monster”. By making Death appear more human in nature, Zusak allows his readers to feel as if they can relate to Death and his emotions – a skill which not only brings a clearer image of Zusak’s rendition of Death to mind, but allows readers to form attachments to a creature so often viewed as cruel.
Main Events In The Book Thief Novel
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a story about family. Liesel Meminger loses her first family, her brother dying and her parents giving her away. Her second family is the Hubermanns, Hans and Rosa. Partway through the story, Max Vandenburg also joins the family. Throughout the story, Liesel trusts her family more and more, and learns to read with Hans. She writes books with Max, and even understands Rosa a bit more.
In the first chapter, Liesel steals her first book, The Grave-Digger’s Handbook. She doesn’t know how to read it at first, but eventually opens up to Hans and they read it together. Together they read, play accordion, and roll cigarettes for Hans to smoke. And even when Liesel goes to school, she still reads at night with Hans. When Hans gets tired of re-reading The Grave-Digger’s Handbook, he trades some of the cigarettes that he and Liesel rolled for more books to read. Hans is the one who picks Liesel up from her mandatory Hitler Youth programs, walking home with her in the silence that he knows she needs. Hans is always there for Liesel, as a father and a friend.
Max Vandenburg is the Jewish man who lives in the basement. When Liesel first meets him, she says that his hair looks like feathers. Repeating her words as he works, Max takes pages from Mein Kamphf and paints them over with white paint before creating his own story to give to Liesel. He writes The Standover Man, talking about how his father was the first one who watched him as he slept and now it was a girl. On the last few pages, he writes about how Liesel said his hair looked like feathers, and how he hopes that they can be friends. He presents the book to Liesel for a birthday present, and begins a friendship.
Even Rosa Hubermann, who at first seems mean, becomes like family to Liesel. When Max falls ill, Liesel wants to sit and watch him as he sleeps to know when he will wake up. Rosa reminds Liesel that staying home from school would draw suspicion, and Liesel reluctantly goes to school after Rosa promises to get her when Max wakes up. When Max does wake up, Rosa honors her promise to Liesel and pulls her out of school by pretending to yell at her so that it wouldn’t be suspicious. At the end of the book, Death says about Rosa “Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger heart than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving… She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching. And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl.” (Zusak 532)
At the end of the book, a bomb is dropped on Himmel Street and the Hubermanns along with many of Liesel’s friends are killed. Liesel survives, along with Max, and now must face being without her family. This book tells the story of a girl who found her true family, before having them ripped away from her. Even Death, the narrator of the story, seems to regret that he is taking Hans and Rosa away from Liesel.
Analysis Of The Book Thief Novel
In Section II, Liesel moves in with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who are her foster parents. Rosa is abrasive and abusive, but Hans acts as a true father to her (the only one she’s known). When she has nightmares in the middle of the night, he comes in and comforts her, eventually teaching her to read the gravedigger’s book. She also meets her best friend, Rudy, and begins attending school. She has difficulty reading, initially, as she has never learned before, but Hans, though a poor reader himself, teaches her. She also steals her first and second books — the first book being the gravedigger’s book, and the second being the book she steals from the flames at the Hitler Youth bonfire.
On page 58, the Jesse Owens Incident — when Rudy Steiner covers himself in black charcoal and performs the 100 meter dash — is described in detail. When his father catches him and asks him what he is doing, he explains matter-of-factly that he is being Jesse Owens. This reminded me of an incident from my little sister’s childhood. One day, she was out in the yard playing, and she said to my stepmom, “I’m a dog. I pee in the grass.” Sure enough, that is exactly what she was doing. The aspects of real life that children choose to imitate in their make-believe are often zany: Rudy didn’t feel that it was enough for him to simply run 100 meters to be Jesse Owens; he also had to be black. My sister couldn’t simply crawl on all fours or bark to be a dog; she also had to mark her territory.
What is the incident relating to the accordion that prevents Hans Hubermann from joining the Nazi party? Death mentions that a man related to the accordion will come later, bringing with him many stories. Was the man who taught Hans to play the accordion Jewish? Does Hans feel that he owes something to the Jews?
“‘No, Rudy.’ Mr. Steiner was steering the bike with one hand and Rudy with the other. He was having trouble steering the conversation” (page 60). I have thoroughly enjoyed Zusak’s writing style overall in the first and second parts of the novel, with his unique diction and wide range of personification (which compliments the personification of Death as a narrator quite nicely). However, my favorite literary device usage of his thus far has been his use of zeugmas, as illustrated in the quote above. Additionally, this incompleteness in Mr. Steiner’s control over his circumstances, especially those pertaining to his son, seems to foreshadow an inability to control Rudy in the future, as well as drawing attention fact that Mr. Steiner is an orderly man, but he cannot order everything.