A child’s maturation depends on their experiences and the choices they act upon them.
In the “Book Thief”, by Markus Zusak, Liesel chooses to read texts which influence her personal experiences. She chooses her likes, dislikes and how to react in times of conflict as part of her maturation. As the reader we are brought through Liesel’s journey of mental development through the symbols of the books she chooses to read. We see these symbols educate Liesel to move from an innocent child to an experienced young lady.
Liesel is uneducated, about to be separated from her mother and grieving her brothers death at the start of the book. These are all dispositional factors for Liesel. We see Liesel have no indication on what is happening around her, why she is being placed in a new home with new parents, who hitler is, what the word “kommunist” means and the fact that a war is on the way. We as readers realise Liesel is illiterate at this stage of the book. She is unable to read or write and has no say on her life or what she wishes. She picks up “the gravedigger’s handbook” after her brothers burial, as an item to remember him. The book can be identified as a symbol of great loss and Liesel’s feeling of abandonment, death recalls Liesel to be in great distress when he says, “still in disbelief, she started to dig. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t”.
From this quote we can understand Liesel is in distress about her brothers death. This may also challenge us to acknowledge Liesel could already be extremely anxious based on the idea of being separated from her mother.
These ideas back up the idea that “the gravedigger’s handbook” is based on the end of her childhood era, and the start of being exposed to the big world, learning how to react without allowing grief and sorrow to define herself. However this book doesn’t just represent sadness and loss, it represents the start of Liesel’s journey with words and friendship with her new foster father Hans. Hans turns Liesel’s embarrassment of wetting the bed when he says “Is this yours?”, he finds the book under her bed. He makes this moment an opportunity for Liesel to learn and write, the beginning of her interest in words and start of her literary era. We can take away from Liesel’s introduction to “the gravedigger’s handbook”, as a new life opening up for her. A life where she can form her own identity, and communicate her ideas and opinions in ways she never could before she became literate. The reader may choose to see this as the start of Liesel’s maturation, the start of thinking for herself and displaying confidence within.
We begin to see its clear Liesel has a great interest in words and developing a relationship based on love with Hans. Already we can see Liesel has matured from the start of the book in multiple ways. Slowly coming to an understanding that Hitler is responsible for the separation of her family. Liesel steals “the shoulder shrug”, from a nazi book burning, she pulls it out of the smoking pile and hides it under her jacket to get it home.”Beneath her shirt, a book was eating her up”, this quote may challenge us to think this is a symbol of the effect words can have physically on someone all through words entering the mind and taking control. Liesel’s amusement with literacy drives her to take the book, however this isn’t the only factor, Liesel wants to take back some of what her new sworn enemy, Adolf Hitler is destroying. The Nazis held these book burnings to destroy books that represented cultural, religious or political opposition to the Nazi regime. A way to eliminate the work and ideas of people the Nazis despised, and to proclaim the superiority of Hitlers beliefs. However Liesel was able to recover a book from the fire, which may suggest no matter how extreme the Nazi actions are to rid Germany of there disbeliefs, these words and ideas will always survive, and are worth fighting for. The reader may choose to believe that in this moment when “In fact, on April 20 – the Führer‘s birthday – when she snatched a book from beneath a steaming pile of ashes, Liesel was a girl made of darkness”. Liesel takes control of her life as the secrecy of stealing the book gives Liesel power in her actions and beliefs, that no one else can choose for her anymore. This is a major point in Liesel’s maturation. Taking the book from the nazi burning is a symbol of rebellion and power, which from this particular moment onwards we see throughout the book.
“The Standover Man” and “The Word Shaker” are two books that Max writes for Liesel. The first book he gives Liesel is “The Standover Man”, a book that he made from the pages of Mein Kampf. The second book “the standover man”, symbolising people who have influenced Max’s life and the fear of people standing over him. Max writes that “all my life i’ve been scared of men standing over me” suggesting the people prompting his life are foreign and manipulative. For example Hitler affected Max’s life, forcing him to go in to hiding away from his family however he remains a foreign figure that makes Max fearful. Max writes this book for Liesel to symbolise her worth to him. The impact she is capable of having on others like she had on Max. Her capability of changing others lives. In the “Word Shaker”, Hitler rises to power through his commitment to gaining control through words. He ensures he tells people exactly what they want to hear, planting words in as many areas of Germany as possible. He planted them endlessly until he had grown forests of words and symbols throughout Germany to the point where many were hypnotised. However there is a small, skinny girl in the novel which is supposed to be Liesel. She plants her own tree, based on her beliefs and the help she gave Max although he is a jew. The tree Liesel plants doesn’t stop growing and when soldiers attempt to chop it down it turns out to be immensely difficult.
This can be related to Liesel in real life, when she helps Max although he is jewish. Liesel’s morals and beliefs remain strong, what the Nazis enforce cannot affect her just like the tree. Where Liesel chooses to help Max proves she has matured a long way because she shows compassion even though the world around her despises people like Max. The writer has used this book to signify yet another point in Liesel’s maturation. There is a notable change with Liesel, as these two books are a refuge for in the midst of Nazi Germany. Not only do the books comfort her but also others, when she reads to the scared people in the shelter. She is no longer the powerless, scared little girl, but a woman who emphasises for others willing to help no matter what the situation is. She main lesson she learns from these two books Max gifts her is, “A small, skinny girl is the “best word shaker of her region because she knew how powerless a person could be” without words.”
The author uses “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, “The Shoulder Shrug”, “The Word Shaker” and “The Standover Man” to prove the influence the symbols have on Liesel’s development from a child to a young lady. Throughout all four books we learn multiple life lessons, especially from the two books Max writes Liesel. The books gave Liesel opportunities of friendship, becoming literate and help with dealing with grief and loss. Liesel has come a long way from being illiterate, essentially powerless at the start of the book to being her own mature woman at the end. All of this would not of been able to happen without the books and what the author made them teach Liesel.