The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
A GIRL MADE OF DARKNESS
Death explains that Liesel Meminger will steal her second book, The Shoulder Shrug, from a book burning on Hitler's birthday and hints at many of the events that follow. Death remarks that Nazi Germany was built in particular on burning: synagogues, houses, Reichstags, and books.
THE JOY OF CIGARETTES
In late 1939 Liesel, despite having nightmares about her dead brother still, has settled into life in Molching. She loves her foster parents Hans and Rosa, her best friend is Rudy Steiner, and her reading and writing is improving. In December Hans finishes reading The Grave Digger's Handbook to Liesel.
On Christmas, the Hubermanns' adult children Hans Junior and Trudy visit, and Liesel, not expecting to get anything at all because of the family's lack of money, receives two books: Faust the Dog and The Lighthouse, the latter written by a woman. Hans traded his precious cigarette rations for them.
THE TOWN WALKER
Rosa loses a laundry customer because the war has forced him to cut back. Rosa forces Liesel to pick up and deliver the laundry, thinking the customers might pity Liesel. One customer, the mayor's wife Frau Hermann, never speaks. In school, Liesel receives an assignment to write a letter to a classmate and decides instead to write to her birth mother. Hans is somewhat disturbed by this and suggests Frau Heinrich from the foster care office can send the letter. Later, Liesel overhears Hans and Rosa discussing her mother, with Rosa asking rhetorically, "Who knows where she is? Who knows what they've done to her?"
A brief flash forward to September 1943 where Hans tells Liesel that he nearly wrote her a under her mother's name as Liesel writes in a book.
In early 1940 Liesel checks the mail daily but does not receive a response from her mother. Liesel writes several more letters to her mother, but doesn't send them. Rosa loses another customer. On Liesel's birthday she receives no presents, but resolves to take some of the scant ironing money to mail her letters. When Liesel admits to stealing the money, Rosa starts beating her but immediately stops and apologizes when Liesel says that she mailed her letters. Liesel realizes that she will never see her mother again and remains on the kitchen floor, unable to move. She sheds a single yellow tear.
HITLER'S BIRTHDAY, 1940
To celebrate Hitler's birthday, a book burning is prepared in Molching. Propaganda, banned and censored books, and written material from the era between World War I to the rise of the Nazis are collected. Every house puts up a flag, and the Hubermanns panic when they briefly cannot find theirs. The Hubermann children Hans Junior and Trudy arrive. Trudy is a maid in Munich, Hans Junior is a soldier and fanatical Nazi. Hans Senior is not a Nazi, and he blew his chance to join the party for painting over anti-Jewish slurs. The father and son argue fiercely; Hans Junior accuses his father of being disloyal to Germany and asks why Liesel isn't reading Hitler's book Mein Kampf. Hans Junior then calls his father a coward for doing nothing while "a whole nation cleans out the garbage and makes itself great" and storms out. Death explains that Hans Junior would end up at the Battle of Stalingrad, where Death was extremely busy carrying the souls of dead soldiers.
100 PURE GERMAN SWEAT
The Hitler Youth divisions march at the book burning then disperse. Carts of banned material are dumped in the town square. Despite her own love of books, Liesel is excited by the prospect of the fire, and Death wonders simply if "humans like to watch a little destruction." A man at a podium gives a violent speech condemning Jews and Communists, and Liesel suddenly makes the connection between Nazism and the fate of her family, as her father was a Communist. As the crowd goes "Heil Hitler!" and the books are set on fire, Liesel becomes nauseated and tries to escape. Death wonders if anyone ever got injured performing a Nazi salute and dryly remarks that no one ever died from it, except for the forty million people Death picked up.
Liesel runs into Ludwig Schmeikl, who has been injured in the crowd. She pulls him away to the steps of the church then apologizes for beating him.
THE GATES OF THIEVERY
Hans meets Liesel at the church steps, and she asks him if her mother is a communist. Hans lies and says he does not know. Liesel asks if Hitler took her mother away, and Hans, finding it impossible to lie, says yes. Liesel says she hates Hitler, and Hans, worried about what to do, slaps her and orders her never to say that again. Hans forces Liesel to do a proper Nazi salute and say "Heil Hitler."
BOOK OF FIRE
Hans leaves Liesel to talk to a friend. Hans admits he is not getting much work as a painter because he is not a member of the Nazi Party. Liesel goes up to the smoldering heap of the book burning as workers cart away ashes. Liesel sees three books that remain mostly intact and she steals a blue book called The Shoulder Shrug. She puts it under her shirt even though it is still hot. Although she was ignored by the workmen, Liesel realizes that one person saw her steal the book: the mayor's wife, Frau Hermann.
Hans and Liesel begin to walk home as smoke rises from Liesel's collar.
Liesel is shocked by the realization that Hitler is responsible for the death and disappearance of her family, yet Hans forces her to publicly salute the Fuhrer, fearing what would happen if others heard her say she hated Hitler. Unable to admit her true feelings, Liesel boldly commits her first act of defiance against the Nazis by stealing a banned book in public. Here, Liesel's motivation for reading and stealing books evolves from sadness over her brother's death to rebellion and vengeance against Hitler. Liesel's mode of retribution is, however, not violent. Her very first action upon making her realization is to help and make peace with Ludwig, the classmate she savagely attacked earlier. Her immediate response to the hatred espoused by the Nazi speaker is one of friendship.
Hans' character becomes more complex as it is revealed that he is not a member of the Nazi Party, his application having been tabled because of his willingness to paint Jewish homes and cover up Jewish graffiti. As a result, Hans' business suffers despite his talent, his standing in the community becomes threatened despite his affability, and his relationship with his son is ruined despite their former closeness. Hans Junior is fully indoctrinated in Nazi ideology and speaks in broad metaphoric terms of restoring Germany's greatness by eliminating social undesirables -- unbeknownst to him, this would include Liesel. He revolts against his father and says that Hans is part of an "old, decrepit Germany," one which lost World War I and is supposedly being rebuilt and avenged by the Nazis. Ironically, Hans Junior calls his father a coward for privately opposing Hitler and the Nazi platform, yet Hans' willingness to help Jews is much more dangerous than supporting Hitler. The meaning of cowardice and the question of whether or not Hans is a coward is a moral question that is revisited throughout the rest of the novel.
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