The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
THE NEXT TEMPTATION
With Rudy, Liesel takes a plate of cookies and another book, The Last Human Stranger, from the mayor's house. She encounters Ilsa and realizes that the library is hers. Ilsa explains that the books are mostly hers; some belonged to her son. Liesel is touched by the idea that the woman owns a roomful of books. Liesel and Rudy eat half the cookies on the way home and share the rest with Tommy Muller.
Meanwhile near Essen, Hans and the rest of his brigade are playing cards for cigarettes. A young man named Reinhold Zucker, who gloats when he wins, accuses Hans of cheating; by contrast, whenever Hans wins a hand he graciously gives his colleagues a cigarette back. Reinhold refuses this; he despises Hans.
THE SNOWS OF STALINGRAD
In January 1943, Liesel goes to Frau Holtzapfel's to read and encounters an old-looking man with a bloody, bandaged hand. He tells Liesel to come back later; three hours later, he visits Liesel's home. He is one of Holtzapfel's sons, Michael, and he has just returned from the Battle of Stalingrad. Liesel lights a cigarette for him. Michael informs Rosa that his brother died in a makeshift hospital; he also tells her that he heard Hans Junior is alive there.
Death explains how Michael's brother Robert died: on a freezing cold January day in Russia, Robert's legs were blown off. He was brought to the temporary hospital and died three days later, his brother at his side. At Frau Holtzapfel's home, Liesel reads to Michael and his crying mother.
THE AGELESS BROTHER
Liesel returns the empty plate to Ilsa Hermann's front door and imagines that her dead brother would be six years old forever. Rosa still sits with Hans' accordion and prays for the safe return of her husband and son.
On the truck carrying Hans' unit, Reinhold Zucker demands to switch seats with Hans; unwilling to argue, Hans complies. A tire blows out and the driver loses control of the truck. Zucker is the only one who dies in the accident, and Hans says that it should have been him. Instead, Hans' leg is injured, and his Sergeant says he will recommend Hans be given rest then sent to Munich for office work, a much safer assignment. He says to Hans, "You're lucky you're a good man, and generous with the cigarettes."
THE BITTER TASTE OF QUESTIONS
In February Liesel and Rosa receive a letter from Hans telling them that he is coming home. Barbara Steiner is ecstatic about the news, and Rudy appears happy, but internally wonders why Hans and not his father will be returning.
ONE TOOLBOX, ONE BLEEDER, ONE BEAR
Rudy, who has been steadily growing angrier since his father's recruitment, takes a metal toolbox up the street; the box contains burglary tools and a teddy bear. Liesel runs out to meet him. Rudy tells her that she is not a real thief since Ilsa practically lets her in; he says that stealing is "what the army does. Taking your father, and mine." Rudy plans on breaking into one of the wealthier residents' homes. He tells Liesel that the teddy bear is to calm down a kid should he encounter one. Ultimately, Rudy is unable to bring himself to steal. Later, he uses the toolbox to carry possessions for air raids.
In March there is another air raid. Frau Holtzapfel refuses to leave her home, and Michael and Rosa are uanble to get her out. Liesel tells her that if she doesn't come to the shelter, Liesel will stop coming to read to her and she will have lost her only friend; Frau Holtzapfel still refuses, so the others leave her for the Fiedlers' basement. Michael regrets leaving his mother, but Frau Holtzapfel arrives. The raid is long, and Liesel reads 54 pages to the group.
After the raid, Rudy's younger sister notices a small fire and smoke coming from near the river. Rudy, with his toolbox, heads there through the forest, and Liesel follows. There is a downed plane. Rudy takes the teddy bear from his toolbox and places it on the pilot. The pilot thanks him in English and dies. Death arrives to carry the man's soul away and recognizes Liesel; Death is convinced that Liesel recognized its presence as well. Death remarks that it has been Hitler's most loyal servant.
After his convalescence, Hans is given a week home before being sent to Munich to do paperwork. He tells Liesel and Rosa about all that has happened to him, including the death of Reinhold Zucker. All that night, he sits by Liesel's bed; she wakes several times to see if he is still there.
The apparent capriciousness of war and death has emotionally wracked the residents of Molching. As the Sergeant notes, Hans survives by having the fortune to be a good gambler and a kind man. Reinhold Zucker dies through his irrational animosity towards Hans; Zucker demands Hans' seat, which Hans considers to be the worst seat in the truck, for no other reason than petty aggression. Hans politely obliges; as a result, Zucker dies in the crash, and Hans is injured and given a transfer to a light assignment. Hans thus cheats death once more in another war.
Rudy grows angrier over his father's conscription and the fact that chance has brought Liesel's father and not his home. He sees Hitler and the Army as having stolen the men, and as a result he plans a violent burglary against the wealthier members of his town. Yet Rudy is unable to commit anything more than petty theft. This is perhaps a reflection of Rudy's ultimate powerlessness in the face of the German war machine; he cannot fight them with violence. Contrast this with "The Word Shaker's" notion that words are ultimately more powerful than bullets (as words can impel people to fight) and propaganda can be successfully countered with words of compassion and friendship. Instead of using the toolbox's contents to commit crime, Rudy ends up giving a teddy bear from it to a dying Allied pilot, a participant in the bombing raid that had just confined his family to an air raid shelter for hours. In addition to this obvious antagonism, there is a language barrier: The pilot thanks Rudy in English, and Rudy asks in German what he said. Rudy's act of compassion to the man bombing his homeland is not a small one: pilots shot down over enemy territory are in danger of being tortured or even lynched by citizens or soldiers outraged over bombing raids. Here intrepid Rudy is the first to meet the pilot, before other citizens quietly arrive, and his action sets an example for them. Rudy has thus demonstrated an acute recognition of the irrationality of hatred and of the fact that the war has ensnared and killed unwilling participants from both sides of the conflict.
The death of one of Frau Holtzapfel's sons sends her into a state of near-catatonia; she barely seems to recognize that her other son has returned home alive. Learning of the state of the Holtzapfel's sons makes Rosa worry about her own son, another participant in the Russian bloodbath. Introduced as a fiery character at the outset of the novel, Rosa has been steadily worn down and now appears emotionally deadened over the uncertain fates of her husband and son.
The Book Thief Essays and Related Content
- The Book Thief: Major Themes
- The Book Thief: Essays
- The Book Thief: Lesson Plan
- The Book Thief: Questions
- The Book Thief: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Markus Zusak: Biography
- The Book Thief Summary
- About The Book Thief
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Prologue
- Summary and Analysis of Part One
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two
- Summary and Analysis of Part Three
- Summary and Analysis of Part Four
- Summary and Analysis of Part Five
- Summary and Analysis of Part Six
- Summary and Analysis of Part Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Part Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Part Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Part Ten and Epilogue
- Notes on the Holocaust and Dachau
- Related Links on The Book Thief
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 5
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources