“The Book Thief”, written by Markus Zusak, focuses on a young orphaned girl named Liesel during world war two in Nazi Germany. Liesel’s brother dies on the way to foster care, when his body gets buried, Liesel comes into occupation of a gravedigger’s handbook she cannot read yet she takes it. Liesel becomes traumatised from the death of her brother which creates a friendship with her gentle, loving foster father. From here Liesel’s relationship with her foster father encourages her interest in reading the gravedigger’s handbook and learning to write. Throughout the story we see Liesel at the start of the book struggling against the odds of the world with her brothers death and being fostered for reasons she failed to understand. As we watch Liesel learn to read and write we see her knowledge and skill mature which allows her to deal with the greater odds like racism, war, death, poverty all part of nazi Germany and the absence of her beloved mother and brother.

Liesel is powerless when her mother hands her over to her foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann. She has experienced her brothers death, her mother has given her up to strangers and Germany’s environment is changing all around her, Liesel having no say or valued opinion about any of this. Liesel can be seen in this stage of the book to be struggling because of the affect her brothers death has on her, when the book says “Still in disbelief, she started to dig. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t”, the reader learns Liesel is greatly upset and doesn’t want to believe her brother is gone. This may challenge the reader to think ahead into the future of Liesel’s childhood, how this will affect her negatively and positively. Children can suffer immensely from traumatic events early on which can affect them in forms of mental illness later in their childhood. However being brought up in an environment where everything is perfect and the child is constantly protected from negative events can show the child later in life not being able to deal with situations where something does not go their way, where their parents can no longer protect them.The negative aspect of her brothers death showed her to feel lonely and uncertain of her new life on Himmel street. However the positive aspect out of her traumatic experience was seen later in the novel, when the jewish man Max, hides in the Hubermann’s house as Hans owed his life to Max’s father who died in the first war. Liesel was being brought up in a world where jewish people were portrayed to be bad and no one was to have association with any jewish people as this was seen as a crime. This can be related to the real world because our beliefs and morals are influenced by society, the main people in our lives and our leaders. Liesel was surrounded by people who believed in this, she had to believe it to remain safe. However when Liesel finds out Max is living in their basement, the reader sees Liesel’s emotions mature and be willing to understand and be caring. The reader sees this change because Liesel chooses to keep Max a secret, and look after him reading books to take his mind off his horrible situation. This event of generosity and kindness on behalf of Liesel proves how far her maturity has come, from her arrival on Himmel Street. This is especially proven at the end of the book when a line says “They hugged and cried and fell on the floor”, when Liesel and Max reunite. This line proves the love Liesel gained for Max all because of her maturation which caused her to be compassionate towards others. She learns how to deal with everyday Nazi Germany, the thought of her mother’s death and Max’s separation from his beloved family, all through the comfort of reading books.

The reader may choose to see the gravediggers book to represent sadness and a sense of loss, the end of an era in her life and the start of a new life. I believe the gravedigger’s handbook was the start of a strong bond between Hans and Liesel and is strongly responsible for the evolving maturity of Liesel. This makes the reader realise how powerful books can be due to the words written down within the book. The reader may realise this because we first of all see Liesel’s maturity increase because of the comfort of reading and writing, the words giving her this feeling and also providing a friendship with Hans. We can see how powerful words can really be and the effect they can have from Hitler’s numerous speeches and his book “Mein Kampf”. His words were so powerful that he persuaded a nation of people to believe in horrible acts against humanity. This made me realise that in today’s society anyone can be capable of this, the ability to be able to use powerful words is dangerous in some forms, it can hurt people and even brainwash society just as Hitler did in his own way. People have the right to their own opinion and this can possibly be at stake when powerful words are used, this may eliminate one’s opinion just like Hitler did to the German people of his nation. They had no self opinion, only Hitler’s due to his strength of persuasion, and if you didn’t believe in hitler’s opinion this was even more dangerous. When the narrator said “In 1933, 90 percent of Germans showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler. That leaves 10 percent who didn’t. Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent”, this showed the ratio was 9:1 of support towards Hitler. This meant if you were part of the 1, you were in danger because the whole 90% of people that believed in Hitler’s theories, believed passionately. I think “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, is a great book for year 12 and 13 students because it proves that words can be used in powerful ways to manipulate, but also be used to mature someone and grow knowledge, love and acceptance just like Liesel did from words. It may open up the perspectives of year 12 and 13 students to look at their own life’s, whether they have someone in their life who uses powerful words to withhold their opinions and manipulate them. It may teach these students to look further than words that come from someone like that and remain strong and aligned to always have faith in their own opinion just like Hans did throughout the novel.


Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Peta, because this is a “personal response” it is important to include how the textual details relate to your beliefs, experiences, thoughts and/or feelings towards the world and people. For example, relate Liesel’s childhood experiences to a real person’s. Consider what the reader learns about people’s abilities, feelings, actions from Liesel’s example.

  2. Hi Peta.
    Additional quotations, strategically placed, would strengthen your discussion. Also, please add paragraph breaks so that your points are clear overall.


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