Read below our complete notes on the novel “The Book Thief ” by Markus Zusak. Our notes cover The Book Thief summary, themes, characters, and analysis.


Conflicts have a long history; they have a multitude of impacts that result in the form of deaths, parting of families, and other losses for which there are no amends later. The Book Thief is a novel that attempts to portray a conflict’s story but from a different perspective. Markus Zusak’s novel attempt is a story about World War II, in which not only human beings are murdered, but books are also damned to death like human beings. The title suggests it as a thriller, but the protagonist is not an ordinary thief, her spots for heist are libraries in Nazi Germany. The protagonist, this way, comes forth to protect her fellows, which encapsulate in themselves an immortal life, i.e., books.

Zusak is a Sydney based writer whose parents were born and brought up in Germany and Austria. They later met in Australia after the Holocaust and got married. They faced the Nazi atrocities and shared all that they saw with their children then. This novel is the author’s fifth novel and was first published in 2005. It claimed great fame when it came to the market and remained in the New York Times bestseller list for about 375 weeks. Along with other awards, it won Book Sense ‘Book of the Year Award.’ A feature film was made about it in 2013.

In the author’s native country, it was labeled as an adult novel while in the United States, it was published as a crossover novel. When asked about it, the author said that it was not his concern that how it is labeled; instead, his motive was to share the content, and it is happening successfully.

This book brings forth the Nazi treatment of Jews and non-Aryan people. There are personal experiences that are shared fictionally. Zusak’s mother was brought up in Munich, where the novel is set while there are some resemblances between his grandfather and Hans Hubermann. It is probably one of the best portrayals of Nazi Germany and what Nazis did from 1933 till their defeat by Allied forces.

There are some events that directly have effects on the novel are the 1941 German invasion of Soviet Union, Allied Forces’ bombings on Munich, Stuttgart, and Molching (which is a fictional place) which took place in 1943.

It was written from 2002 to 2005, and for this purpose, the author visited Germany. It was partly written in Germany while the rest in Sydney, Australia. His mother told him a story regarding a boy who gave bread to a starving Jew. This person was later presented as Hans Hubermann.

The additional inspiration for Zusak, according to his interviews, is a real book thief in Sydney, and that forced him to write about a fictional one in the fictional peripheral town near Munich, Molching. Another impulse behind it was his childhood when his parents made him read books because they hadn’t the opportunity, now they didn’t want their children to lose.

 More than a million copies of this book have been sold, and more is about to come, Zusak at the age of thirty (in 2005, born 1975) has earned a fame that is unusual. 

The Book Thief Summary


In the prologue, death introduces himself and the characters. It is done in four separate sections. These are ‘Death and Chocolate,’ ‘Beside the Railway Line,’ ‘The Eclipse,’ and ‘The Flag.’ Here it gives a brief account of the key characters and the incidents. It introduces its work and tells about the protagonist whom it saw three times. Death also introduces the key elements of the novel. It describes colors and related them to life or death. Death saw the protagonist for the first time in the train, then for the second time when it went to collect the soul of a pilot and for the last time when Allied Forces were bombing Germany. In the ending lines of prologue, it asks the reader to come and read the rest of the story if he feels interested.

Part I – The Gravedigger’s Handbook

In the first chapter, the book thief, Liesel Meminger, is shown travelling in a train with her mother and brother. She is a nine years old girl, and her mother is taking them to a foster family in Munich. She dreams of Adolf Hitler, and during this journey, her brother Werner dies in train. They get off the train at the next station and bury Werner. Here Liesel picks up a book that a gravedigger has mistakenly dropped. After that, they continue their Journey towards Munich and reach the suburban area where her to-be foster parents live. They live on Himmel Street in Molching. Their names are Hans Hubermann and Rosa Hubermann.

She is taken there because her father was arrested for being Communist, and her mother is sick. When she is taken to her foster parents, she thinks of it as salvation because it would be a serene life. Initially, Mrs. Huberman doesn’t like her. Hans is a house painter while Rosa works as a laundrywoman. Rosa calls her saumensch, which means pig-girl, but later accepts Liesel and tells her to call Rosa mama and Hans Papa.  

In the beginning, she feels uneasy because Werner, in the nightmares, haunts her. She screams in the dreams, and Hans is there to comfort her. She is enrolled in the school but with children younger than her. The reason for it is her lower comprehension ability than other children. She joins Rosa in collecting and delivering clothes and later begins deliveries by herself. She is enlisted in ‘Hitler Youth’ which is an organization for the youth to support the Nazi party. She receives a uniform and other articles.

She comes to know her next-door neighbor Rudy Steiner and becomes her friend. Rudy is obsessed with the black American athlete Jesse Owens who has won four gold medals in Berlin Olympics. He tries to imitate him in the best possible way. He, in a bet, asks her to kiss, which she refuses.

She is not relieved of her brother’s death and one night due to a nightmare wets her bed. Rosa finds the book which she has stolen from the gravedigger and tells Hans. Hans starts teaching her alphabet, and she begins learning. Meanwhile, Hitler has attacked Poland, and she wants to read the news in front of her class but fails and instead reads a passage from gravedigger’s book. She beats two of her classmates because she thinks they laughed at her because of her failure. This incident saddens her, and when she reaches back home, Hans tries to comfort her.

Part II – The Shoulder Shrug

In this part, the narrator tells about the Germans’ favorite hobby, which is to burn things. It happens when the residents of Molching gather and burn books at Hitler’s birthday in a bonfire. They gather the books authored by non-Aryan writers and burn them. Liesel is learning reading and writing, and in a little time, she is able to read the book. On Christmas eve, she is gifted by her foster father, two books.

The war is getting more serious, and it has reduced the Germans’ purchasing power. Now, Rosa’s customers no longer want her to wash their clothes. When she goes to collect it, they refuse by saying that they will do it at home. She adopts a new strategy and asks Liesel to collect the clothes. The reason behind it is that she thinks they won’t refuse to give a child the clothes, and thus she will be able to get assignments. In little time Liesel is told by the social worker, who arranged her stay at Hubermanns, that she has lost contact with her mother. Though the news worries still, she continues to hope that she will be able to resume the contact.

Hitler’s birthday is approaching near, and Hubermanns’ children come back home. Their younger son is a Nazi maniac and reproaches his father for not loving Hitler. He asks him to join the Nazi party and play his role for his country. He considers his father a traitor and thinks he has betrayed his country by painting the slurs that were written on the shops owned by Jews. He rushes out of home in anger with spitting abuses for his father.

At the birthday they parade in the town and after that books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, etc. are brought and burnt. She gets out of the crowd and, on the way, finds her friend Schmiekl whom she had beaten. She thanks her and apologizes for his mistake. After helping him, she returns and joins the crowd. Her foster father is there, and she tells him she hates Hitler. She slaps her on the face and tells her not ever to say this in public.

Near the bonfire, there is a book left from being burnt, and she picks it stealthily. There she is seen by a fluffy-haired woman. She hides it in her shirt and takes it home; it is The Shoulder Shrug.

Part III – Mein Kampf

Hans comes to know about the book she has stolen and promises her not to tell about it to Rosa. In requital, she tells him that she will keep a secret from him that he wants Rosa not to know. In the meantime, she learns that the woman with the fluffy hair was Ilsa Hermann, and she is the Mayor’s wife. After that, she starts avoiding the Mayor’s home and doesn’t collect laundry from there. But later, she encourages herself to go there, and Ilsa welcomes her and takes her to her library.

She feels amazed to see the room filled with books. She spends her free time there reading, sitting on the floor. One day she sees a name there in a book, Johann Hermann, and asks Ilsa about this name. She tells her that he was her son and was killed in the First World War. She tells her that she is sorry for this happening.

They also discuss a Jewish man Max who is hidden in a storage room in the town of Stuttgart. He is starving there to death but doesn’t want to leave, and a German helped him. He brought him stale food, fat, and carrots. He promised to make him an ID card so that he may escape. Max eats a small portion of food and keeps waiting for his savior, who will secure a way out for him.

Hans and Liesel continue to read the book she had stolen on the night burning the books. They read it together and come to know that it was about a Jewish hero. For this reason, it is unacceptable to Nazis and is damned to be burnt. There is a shortage of food due to the rise in war flames, and there is regulated rationing to every home. She and Rudy steal apples from an orchard, and for the first time, she eats six apples in a row. Due to this, she falls ill. Later one day, they find a coin on the road and go to a shop and buy candy with it, sharing the licks.

Max has got a fake identity card which is given to him in Mein Kampf, and he boards a train. He is sweating throughout the way for fear of being caught. He pretends to read the book throughout the way. In the book, there is a map and the door key of the home that he is bound to go. Rudy and Liesel continue their thefts and one day plan to wet the road so that the delivery boy slips and they steal his food. They exchange this food with the local shop owner for a bag of candies. Max has arrived in Molching, and the address he is given is Hermanns’ house. He is ready to unlock the door and enter the house.

Part IV – The Standover Man

Max arrives there and is welcomed by the family. Hans tells a friend’s story when he was fighting in World War I as a soldier. He has become an acquaintance with a German Jew names Erik. He wrote letters for him and supported him there. Later in the war, his company, along with Erik, was killed. Erik was a good accordion player. Left with his accordion and a heap of his memories, he had decided to search for his family and help them if they needed it.

He had found his family, and his wife asked him to keep the accordion and told him to help her son if ever she was in need. Later Hitler came to power, and Jews were declared unwanted citizens. In 1939, their properties were looted; they were arrested and murdered. Max, Erik’s son, was helped by his father’s friend. After two years of living as a fugitive, he had come there, and they told him to stay in the basement. Due to cold weather, he would come and spend nights on the ground floor. He had befriended Liesel, and before her birthday, he stayed secluded. He asked her not to come to the basement and later gave her a birthday gift. It was about his stand-over, and he had written it with wall paint on pages of Mein Kampf.

Part V – The Whistler

In the opening death announces that Rudy will die soon. She continues to visit the Hermanns and continues reading books there. When she is offered a book, she refuses to take it and responds that she likes to read a few pages when she comes there. She brings newspapers from trash bins for Max, and he reads them. It is 1941, and the situation is worsening, the Mayor has asked people to prepare for hard times.

Mrs. Hermann gives her a letter when one day she goes there to collect laundry. The letter is for Rosa, and she has asked her not to send Liesel for laundry because she can not afford it. She tells Liesel that she can come there anytime and read books. Liesel gets angry and acts rudely. When she comes home, she is angry over Rosa and holds her responsible for all that has happened.

Max fantasizes about having a boxing match with Hitler and exercises in the basement. They paint more pages for him so that he can complete his book. The local Youth League’s new head has been elected, and he is a harsh man. Due to him, Liesel and Rudy leave Youth League and join their food-stealing gang. Liesel gets a book, and the Youth League’s leader throws it to a river, and Rudy jumps to save it. After saving, he asks for a kiss, which is refused.

Part VI – The Dream Carrier

Christmas has arrived, and Liesel builds a snowman for Max. She keeps bringing gifts for him like wrappers, pinecone, feather, etc. Death visits Max but doesn’t take him. One, she sees clouds over a mountain, and Hans asks her to give it to Max as a gift. She writes a description and puts it on his bedside.

Max stays unconscious due to weakness and remains so for about three months. She once visits Hermanns and steals another book from there. The library window is open; death says it is because Mrs. Hermann wants her to come there and steal books. With Max’s coma, they have felt that they get enough food, but nobody expresses it.

One day in March, Rosa comes to her school, and pretending to be angry takes her aside. There she tells her that Max has recovered and is awake. She is very much excited and happy over this good news. One day German soldiers arrive there to check for basements because there is a threat that the enemy will bomb the city. Liesel hardly manages to go home and tells Rosa about the coming of military men. Max stays there hidden and is not seen by the soldier.

Part  VII – The Complete Duden Dictionary and Thesaurus

The prospects of Allied Forces’ attacks have grown, and Hans’ job is the most needed. He paints the windows black so as to protect the residents during the blackout. She accompanies him to his workplace, and they spend time together. She listens to the accordion when he is free and plays it. Some pay him money for painting the windows while some barter his services for food and other necessities.

She visits Hermanns’ house and finds a book propped in the window. There is a letter stuck in it. It is from Mrs. Hermann, and she has told her that she expects her to come there stealing the books. The sentence that astonishes her is that she has asked her to come to steal the books through the front door. Rudy prepares for the upcoming Hitler carnival and dreams that he will win four medals like his ideal but fails.

One day the enemy fighter jets come for airstrikes, and they go to neighbors’ basement for their safety, leaving Max back in the basement. She reads a book there to the people gathered there and is invited to read it to them in the afternoons for coffee, and she accepts the offer.

Hans has lost his reputation for helping a Jew and for growing suspicions Max leaves. Gestapo comes, and instead of taking Hans, they are there for Rudy.

Part VIII – The Wordshaker

At Rudy’s house, men from the army arrive and ask his father to take him. His father refuses to let him go and volunteers in his place.  Hans’ request to join the Nazi party is accepted. He is deployed at Essen, where his duty is to take care of those injured in the airstrikes. Rudy is infuriated over all that happened and resolves to kill Hitler. Liesel goes and asks him to come back, which he accedes.

She and Max take part in the Jew processions and throw bread crumbs so that the prisoners eat it. She takes care of Han’s accordion, Rosa, and continues reading a book to her neighbor. She tells Rudy about the book that Max has written. The name of the story that he has written is ‘The Word Shaker.’ It is about the power of words and how Hitler has utilized this power. Another story tells about a girl who has come to know the power of words and uses it to protect herself.

Christmas is approaching, and Rudy steals a suit for her from his father’s shop. There are about to kiss but don’t.

Part IX – The Last Human Stranger

Rudy and Liesel come again to Hermanns’ to steal books. This time Ilsa has left cookies for them in the library. They eat it, and Liesel leaves a thank you note for her. Hans’ coworker Zucker dislikes him, blames him for treason, and wants to harm him. They board trucks for another place, and Zucker wants to change places with him, which he accepts. A tire is punctured, and the vehicle goes off the road. Zucker dies of the broken neck while Hans breaks his leg. He is taken to hospital, and from there is ordered to be deployed in Munich. He informs Rosa and Liesel regarding it.

Mrs. Holtzapfel’s (Liesel’s neighbor) son comes back to him while the other is killed on the battlefield. Airstrikes continue, and one day, when the siren is heard, she refuses to leave for the basement, but after persistent requests go there.

Liesel and Rudy go to the forest to see the plane that has been shot down and is burning. The pilot is about to die. Rudy gives him a teddy bear, and the pilot says, ‘thank you’ in English.

Hans comes back and tells Rosa, Liesel, about his time at the war front.

Part X – The Book Thief

Death informs the readers about the catastrophe that is about to come. Himmel Street will be bombed, and Liesel’s loved ones will be killed, including Rudy. Now the scene turns towards Molching, where the situation is becoming normal. The Jews are paraded still, and one day she finds Max in a procession being taken. She runs towards him and joins the procession. A soldier comes and starts beating her and Max, but she refuses to leave. She reads him a passage from ‘The Word Shaker.’ Then when she is again hit by the soldiers, Rudy comes and takes her away. Staying unwell for a few days and tells Rudy about Max.

She starts going to Hermanns and continues reading. Then a few days later, Molching is attacked by fighter jets, and all her acquaintances are dead. She stays safe because she is working on writing her story, which she has named ‘The Book Thief.’ She comes and kisses Rudy’s lips, whose body is lying on the rubble. She stands up and throws the book she is writing. It is later thrown into the garbage, but death comes and secures it.


In this section, death concludes the story. It tells how Liesel died years after the war, having three children and many grandchildren, living on Himmel street in Sydney, Australia. He tells about the happenings after the bombing incident that how she was taken by Hermanns, and she lived with her. Death also tells about coming back to Alex, Rudy’s father, and she often went to his shop. In 1945 Max came and joined them after the war. In the end, death says that it hasn’t understood human beings, because they have different natures. He ends the story by saying that human beings haunt him.

The Book Thief Characters Analysis

Liesel Meminger

She is the protagonist of the novel. She is a brave hard-working, and kindhearted girl. She steals books and loves them. Her love for books is precocious, even before she has started learning to read. She faces a tough time when she learns to read, Hans Hubermann teaches her, but he himself has been to school till fourth grade. Liesel has lost both her parents, one to Nazi Germany, another to poverty and illness.

She didn’t have any formal education before she came to Hubermanns. The reason for it is her father’s communist affiliations. The age at which she comes to Hubermanns is about ten and when Himmel street is destroyed. The novel tells about her death years later when she is old, and death comes to collect her soul. She knows the power of words and wants to utilize it. She makes full use of it and makes it comfort for herself and those around her. She knows how to use words to fill the space inside herself and outside.

She is a strong person who builds and strengthens a family when she loses her own. She develops physically as well emotionally during the time she spends with Hubermanns. She tells to keep the secret of Max’s presence, which shows her resilience, trustworthiness, and loyalty. She is a morally strong person who beats a classmate when he makes fun of her, but when he is injured, she helps her.

To conclude, she is a round character that develops throughout the story and exhibits human excellence.


Death is the first and third-person narrator in this novel. Death is not portrayed like a grim reaper; rather, it has a regular job which it has to carry out. Death is not portrayed as a decision-maker rather;, its role is to carry out the orders that it is given. Interaction with humans has made it feel, and it has emotions when it takes souls of those it doesn’t think deserving. Death considers the war a workload and thinks that it needs to take rest.

It is a mysterious figure which enjoys colors. It has dealt with both good and bad human beings and is confused by how varied human nature is. Death is mystified by the author in this novel by his love of colors and its epic descriptions.

It seems different, and when talking about human beings seems dark. It also corrects the human perceptions regarding it as it tells the story. It tells that it is also as human beings and works at the order of human bosses like Hitler and other warmongers and gets tired.

Hans Hubermann

Hans Hubermann is Liesel’s foster father and lives on Himmel Street, Molching. He is an anti-Nazi German who is hated for his anti-Nazi sentiments by his neighbors. He has been to school up to fourth grade, but he is the motivating force behind Liesel’s reading habits. He is a house painter and an accordion player. He is a kind and gentle person.

He cares for his family and for this purpose, enlists for the Nazi party because he doesn’t want his family to be harmed. He is a WWI veteran, and his life was saved by a German Jew. This is the reason that he doesn’t hate Jews and protects his friend’s son Max when he is in need.

He is not a fighter literally, but he is a fighter who fights the Nazi propaganda by painting the slurs written about Jews. He is a man of principles and can take great risks for it, and that makes him a strong, undefeatable man.

Rosa Hubermann

Rosa is Hans’ wife and works as a laundrywoman. She is a short and plump woman. She yells and shouts at people she doesn’t like. She like her husband is a loving person, though she doesn’t express it. She is a woman who stands by her husband when he is in need and supports him throughout. She keeps the presence of Max in her house basement and is ready to share her family’s food without questioning her husband.

Though she is a rude person, her care for her family is unquestionable. She is a complex character. She curses her husband for uselessness when he is at home while when he is away, she prays for his return.

Rudy Steiner

Rudy is Liesel’s friend, and he is a symbol of opposition to Nazi thinking. His ideal is Jesse Owens, and he paints himself black like him. He loves Liesel and constantly tries to get a kiss from her, but she kisses him when it is too late. He is good at studies and is a good athlete. He is always there to support Liesel when she is in need. He is a kindhearted person.

He initially opposes the Nazi idea but comes to open opposition when his father is taken by the military. He starts hating the Nazi ideology when local thugs come in power and try to bully him. He even tries to go and kill Hitler but is stopped by Liesel. He is Liesel’s partner, both in good and bad. He is like an ideal of Hitler’s Nazi youth but proves the opposite through his actions because he can’t stand injustice.

Max Vandenburg

He is Eric Vandenburg’s son, who was a Jewish friend of Hans Hubermann and saved his life in WWI. He is provided shelter at Hubermanns as a return for his father’s good that he did to Hans. He is, in many respects, the same to Liesel, he has lost his father, and he has escaped. His life is haunted by nightmares. He has respect for words and thinks of Hans as his savior. He is a good friend of Liesel and, like her, hates Hitler. He is a daydreamer and dreams of having a boxing match with Hitler. He thinks that his life is saved by the words that Liesel built as a fortress around him.

He is an artist as well as an indefatigable fighter who never gives up and comes out of the plight successfully.

Ilsa Hermann

Ilsa is the mayor’s wife and a loving person. She is a book lover and comes to know Liesel for the first time when she sees her stealing the book from the burnt pile. She is a kind woman who encourages Liesel’s reading habits. She is thought by the majority of the town’s inhabitants that she is mad because she roams around in her bathrobe. She has lost a son in WWI, and there are suggestions that she hates jingoes.

She is aware of the fact that Liesel has come to steal the book, but she encourages her and welcomes her. Probably she has found the figure of her lost son in Liesel because there is an indication that her son had reading habits. She is the one who provides Liesel books and paper, encourages her to write her story. She is broken by the loss of her only son, and she wants nobody to be lost this way.

Adolf Hitler

He is the leader of Nazi Germany and the protagonist of the story. He is the reason behind all the misery and is considered evil. He never appears physically in this story but is shown through his book Mein Kampf. He uses how to use the power of words and uses it as a propaganda machine.

Liesel’s Mother

She is a sick woman whose husband has been taken away by the Nazis. She spends a miserable life having lost her son to death and her daughter to live in strangers’ house.


Werner is Liesel’s brother, who dies on the way to Munich in train. He is the one who appears in Liesel’s dreams and haunts her mind. His death is the main event because it leads to make Liesel a book thief.

Hans Jr.

He is Hans Hubermann’s son and a Nazi fanatic. He fights his father for his jingoism and calls him a traitor. He is a type that represents evil, unkindness, and ossification.

Frau Holtzapfel

She is Liesel’s neighbor and has lost one son on the battlefield. She tries to find relief in words and asks Liesel to come and read her from the book. She has had an argument with Rosa and hates her for it, but later it is mended.

Eric Vandenburg

He is Hans’ friend and a Jew. He saved Hans’ life and lost his own, thus indebting him for the whole life. He is an accordionist and teaches Hans to play the accordion. He is a symbol of hope.

Reinhold Zucker

Zucker is a 24-year-old. He is a colleague of Hans and develops hatred towards him after losing a card game from him. He loses his life due to his hatred.

Michael Holtzapfel

 Michael is Frau Holtzapfel’s son and has fought in the Soviet Union, losing his brother before his own eyes. His trauma doesn’t let him lead a normal life and ends up committing suicide.

Themes in The Book Thief


Love is shown in this novel in different forms; these can vary from romance to kindness. In Germany, Nazis have changed the meaning of love; it is only the affection shown to an Aryan. Any sympathies shown to non-Aryans are a crime, and if anybody commits it, he/she is punished. But love exists in human nature and is expressed regardless of the restrictions put on people.

People are forced to hate Jews, but some are there who hide them at their homes, risking their lives. Some share crumbs of food with them when they are marched to concentration camps. There is also childish romantic love between Liesel and Rudy, which is completed when Rudy dies. She consummates it when she kisses him on his lips after his death.

The theme of love appears at different places in this story and has different connotations.

Literature and Writing

The title suggests that there would be something shown about Literature, and there is. Liesel has a love for books and knows the power of words. Words form language and Literature is the most refined form of language. She uses this power of words and writes about what she faced and what her companions saw during the Nazi regime. Characters like her use and enhance Literature for the good of humanity while others try to destruct it.

Nazis burn books and think that they have burnt the ideas, but it is not possible. They try to silence non-Aryans and, for this reason, try to censor their ideas. They do so by censoring their words because they think word contagious, which passes from one to another. In response, Max is seen trying to obliterate Meinkampf by painting its pages, which is a reaction to the Nazi regime.


The Book Thief is temporally set in a war, from 1939 to 1943. It portrays an era of war and atrocities related to it. In this period Holocaust and WWII are going on, and this moulds even characters like death. Death wants to go on a vacation because he is working overtime. There is also an opposition to the view of Allies as peace forces because they didn’t do differently from the Nazis. They targeted civilian residential areas regardless of the fact that they didn’t want or participate in the war. Thus it shows a multifaceted view of war, which is fierce and forces death to take people’s souls.


In the modern era, identity is ambiguous and hard to clarify. In Nazi Germany, it is tricky because people of a specific race and political affiliation are allowed. The rest are sent to concentration facilities to be exterminated. In the majority of the cases in this novel, the characters try to forge their identities and change it from what it is, especially Jews. In the case of non-Jewish Germans, there is a shift of identity seen from Nazi to anti-Nazi factions, which try to defy the Nazi regime.

The Power of Words

Words have the greatest power than anything else. And that’s what the major characters try to use either to help or manipulate people. They connect people, and if these are manipulated can result in different ways; an example of it is their successful use as propaganda. Words strengthen the bond between Liesel and Hans; again, they do it between Max and Liesel. Liesel, through words, connects Liesel to the outside world.

Max gives Liesel a gift, which is a book that he has written himself, and this gives her hope. Words are used as a refuge from the harsh realities of the world, like stories used by Liesel to escape the idea of Nazism. It is her words that are left behind and emotionally effect death. Words carry ideas, either good or bad, and thus are dangerous. Overcome by this fear, Nazis try to burn books so that they can stop ideas from spreading, but they can’t be contained.

The Dualities of Nazi Germany

When human beings are bound to act in opposition to their impulses, they are bound to be dual-faced. The same happens in this novel. Nazism forces Germans to do which the majority is not willing and thus changes them to a people whose outward is different from the inward. Human beings can’t conform to human-made ideals, and Rudy is an example of it. His ideal is Jesse Owens, an African American athlete, while he himself is like an Aryan ideal. This gives him a different identity, African American in ideas while Aryan in appearance.

Max also has two identities when he travels to Hubermanns; one is his Jewish identity, while the other is his apparent Nazi identity. He reads Mein Kampf while inside his mind, he hates it. Same is the case with the Hubermanns who appear like law-abiding citizens, but they hide a fugitive at their home. Thus they are apparently patriots according to the then definition of term apparently, and in reality, they are traitors.

Liesel expresses her hatred for Hitler, and Hans slaps her for it because he doesn’t think it fit to be done in public.

The Kindness and Cruelty of Human Beings

Human beings are born both cruel and kind; it’s the individual’s choice to be either. In this novel, the instances of kindness or cruelty are shown in variant degrees. Some characters like Ilsa and Rudy show kindness in its mild form, while some evil characters like Hitler, Victor Chemmel, Franz Deutcher, etc. are the ones who show cruelty in its extreme.

There is kindness in some instances when characters like Hans and his family risk their lives for Max and keep him in their house. They love a Jew because his father saves Hans’ life. Liesel loves Max as if he is a family member, not a fugitive who is hiding at their home.  In sharp contrast, there are concentration camps, which are not shown though, but they present cruelty at its extreme.

A juxtaposition of a kind and cruel behavior at a single instant is shown when Jews are marched to Dachau, and Hans tries to give bread to a Jew prisoner and gets beaten. In this picture, on one side, there are human-like beasts called Nazis who kill Jews in gas chambers, and on the other hand, there are kind people like Hans who act according to their impulses and help those who are in need.


Human life is filled with miseries, and they suffer throughout their life, especially characters in The Book Thief. There we can see war, illness, hunger, abuse, and other forms of suffering. It is just the representation of life in the Nazi cities, not the concentration camps. It is a mild insinuation of what may have happened there. This is the relatively dark representation of the bleakest situations. There is a feeling of guilt and loss over the suffering of the loved ones shown.

Death and Humanity

Death is often described as a bleak carrier of unfortunate happenings, and we loath it for this perception. In this novel, the writer has made a new attempt to perceive it. It is represented as more human than some human beings like warmongers. Death is shown having feelings, and it is sad about the death of those who don’t deserve it. In contrast, some human beings don’t think about it and kill mercilessly. So death is shown having the human feelings and humanity inside it, which is an ironic representation of some biped-humans.

The Book Thief Analysis

The Book Thief is a novel set in Nazi Germany which relates the story of a word lover girl who seeks refuge in books when human beings fall short of humanity. It is a modern realistic work, where the characters (fictional) and incidents (some real while other fictional) reinforce the message the author wants to convey using the story of the extermination of Jews and the infallibility of human love.

Through its close to real portrayal of incidents and the reader attracting story of Liesel, the reader is engaged and reads the book till the tragic end nears. Its well-wrought plot and the narrator make it interesting where sage sayings are sprinkled like fragments of gold to tell the reader not to be ever disappointed with humanity.


The tone of the novel is desperately hopeful. The novel starts in bleak situations, but death tells about the good days that will come. The situation is dark, but death asserts that it will show a bright day because human beings deserve it.

In the novel, we see that the characters often lose hope and despair, but then they gather their courage, and we see they fight till the end. Though not all survive till the end, even their end is a source of inspiration for others. The story of the Holocaust is getting old, but it asks the reader to pledge to stand against any injustice anywhere in the world.


It is historical fiction, a war drama, and tells about the coming of age of the protagonist and her friend Rudy Steiner. It focuses on Liesel’s life, ups, and downs, sorrows, and joys that she saw and came out of WWII as a survivor but a different and strong person from what she was.

This novel doesn’t give a dry description but from the point of view focusing on Liesel Meminger, making it an interesting human story, though death a loathed concept is the narrator.

Point of View

Death is the narrator of the novel, but his narration point of view changes from the first person to the third person. The limited first-person point of view shows death as a weary worker who is tired of collecting the souls from dying people. In first-person he doesn’t show much information and like the rest of the people is knows what others do and generally tells about Liesel and incidents taking place in Germany. As a third-person omniscient narrator, he tells the things that others don’t know and are extraordinary, like the happenings after the airstrike and change of situations after WWII. He tells about her how she spent her life later and naturalized to Australia. These shifts make the readers believe the story.


The temporal setting of the novel is the period of WWII from 1939 to 1943. The spatial setting of the story is Germany, places vary. The places used are Molching, which is a neighborhood of Munich and Munich city. The places vary from open areas like public squares to streets, parade grounds, rivers, and cryptic places like basements. These settings help add to the tone of the novel, and the reader feels as if he/she himself is in place of Liesel in Nazi Germany and facing all that is happening around.

Significance of Title

The title of ‘The Book Thief’ is given to Liesel by her friend and accomplice in thefts. It signifies the life of Liesel, who is the protagonist and her friend who helps her steal a book from Hermanns’ library. Death, who is the narrator of the book, is also a thief who steals Liesel’s book when she throws it away. Max is also a thief who paints the pages of Mein Kampf and uses them for his own purpose. Hitler is also a big thief who steals and burns the books. Thus the thefts set both background and foreground, making the story interesting and charm the reader.

Significance of Ending

At the end of WWII in Molching, Liesel loses the majority of her friends and acquaintances. Though Rudy’s father and Ilsa stay alive and they are the hope of a good life which she later spends in Australia. In contrast to the opening, the ending is not that bleak, and there is a ray of hope that her life will change as war is over. And as said, it happens in Australia where she leads a happy life. The ending signifies human resolution and hope, which can change any bleak situation.

Writing Style

Like other modernist works, there are innovative experiments in this novel. There are books within books, foreshadowing, and spoilers that break the information before it is the right time. Death is used as a narrator, and that adds to the mysterious nature of the book. There is not only a written description; rather, there are illustrations to tell the reader about what happened. Death is used as a tricky narrator and often tells what is deceptive, makes believe, and then deserts; an instance of it is withholding some information that would be a ray of hope in the bleak situation.


The Accordion and Meinkampf are used as symbols in this novel. The former represents hope, love, friendship, creativity, and harmony. It helps relieve the weary denizens of Himmel street to get rid of the devilish reality and find respite in music for a short time. The latter is a symbol of terror, destruction, inhumanity, and devilish desires. It shows the ill use of words and the cause of the miseries of the millions of human beings.

The swastika is also presented as a symbol, which didn’t carry the connotative meanings that it carries today. It was Nazis malice, which made it a symbol of evil instead of its denotation, which was ‘good fortune.’


There are allusions to literary works like Mein Kampf, which is Adolf Hitler’s autobiography. Historically there are allusions to Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens, Berlin Olympics of 1936, Joseph Goebbels, and Joseph Stalin, etc. There are also references to music geniuses like Beethoven, Mozart, and Strauss.

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