The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
THE FLOATING BOOK (Part I)
This section foreshadows events that happen later in the book. Rudy is standing in icy water, holding a soggy book and asking Liesel for a kiss. Death admits that Rudy will die and says he would have liked to have witnessed Liesel kissing his dead body.
THE GAMBLERS (A SEVEN-SIDED DIE)
A series of events over the course of 1941 are described, each compared with the roll of a die. In April, Max asks Liesel to cut his hair. In early May, Liesel continues to read The Whistler at Ilsa's home, and imagines herself confiding in Ilsa about Max. As Liesel prepares to go, Ilsa offers the book to her, but she refuses. On her way home, Liesel finds a newspaper for Max. Max and Liesel spend time reading together in the basement. In mid-May, Liesel's soccer team trounces Rudy's, and she excitedly tells Max. Max asks her to descibe the sky, and he draws her description on the wall, with the two of them walking on a cloud.
At the end of May, Max begins exercising again through a series of push-ups. He fantasizes about fighting Adolf Hitler in a boxing ring. The crowd -- millions of Germans -- cheers for Hitler and abuses Max, who arrives alone. Even the referee is biased towards Hitler. There is only one round, and Hitler punches Max for hours. Max falls, but slowly rises before the count, then at last aims a series of blows at Hitler's mustache. Hitler falls, then returns to his feet, removes his gloves, and addresses the crowd. Hitler delivers a speech threatening that Max is plotting against them, trying to enslave them. He asks them to come into the ring to "defeat this enemy together," and they do. In the end, a girl comes in with a newspaper and tells Max that the crossword is empty, then the fantasy is over. A few nights later Max tells Liesel about his recurring dream of fighting Hitler and that he is training for it. In early June, Max, Liesel, Hans and Rosa remove and paint over the pages of Mein Kampf then replace them in preparation for a new book.
Germany invades the Soviet Union in late June, and Rosa loses her last customer: the mayor and his wife Ilsa, who have to cut back while they advise others to prepare for harder times ahead. On Liesel's last visit, Ilsa begs her to take The Whistler, which she does at first. But Liesel feels so angry that she returns and yells at Ilsa, attacking her for being wealthy and arrogant and telling her to face the fact that her son is dead. Liesel throws the book on the ground and sees Ilsa as having been beaten up by her words. Back at home, Liesel tells Rosa that she called the mayor's wife pathetic, and that is why Ilsa fired them. Rosa does not think Liesel is capable of insulting Ilsa for obsession over her dead son, and calmly accepts the news of having been fired.
Rudy is having trouble with the Hitler Youth leader, an older boy named Franz Deutscher. When Rudy sticks up for Tommy Mueller, who has developed hearing problems and has trouble marching, the two are forced to perform a series of drills in the mud. Rudy tells Liesel what happened and tries to compel her to kiss him, but she doesn't.
Rudy and Liesel return to the group of young thieves and meet their new leader: Viktor Chemmel, a wealthy boy who steals for enjoyment. Liesel considers the new leader a cruel tyrant, in contrast to the last leader Arthur Berg. After they steal, Viktor gives Rudy and Liesel just one apple. When Rudy complains, Viktor beats him. Rudy spits on Viktor's feet, and Viktor vows to make Rudy pay for it at a later date.
Max begins drawing sketches in the newly-blank pages of Mein Kampf. One cartoon shows Hitler singing before a saluting crowd with the caption "Not the Fuhrer - the conductor!" Another shows a couple standing atop a moutnain of dead bodies looking at a swastika Sun; one says, "Isn't it a lovely day..." Curious, Liesel sees these two pages and is deeply frightened by them.
THE WHISTLER AND THE SHOES
Rudy leaves a Hitler Youth meeting covered in manure, blaming Franz Deutscher. Rudy and Liesel agree to steal something as a way of giving Rudy a victory. Liesel brings Rudy to the mayor's house with the intention of stealing The Whistler, though Rudy things they are trying to get food. Liesel climbs through an open window and gets the book; they race off at first but Rudy loses her shoes and has to go back and retrieve them. When they get to their homes, Rudy for the first time calls Liesel "book thief."
THREE ACTS OF STUPIDITY BY RUDY STEINER
Rudy foolishly steals a large potato from Thomas Mamer's grocery in full view of many people. Mamer is about to call the police when Rudy spots one of his teachers and begs him to explain how poor Rudy is. The teacher does so convincingly, and Rudy is let go.
At a Hitler Youth meeting, Rudy is asked by his Hitler Youth leader Franz Deutscher when Hitler's birthday is; Rudy responds with Christ's birthday and is punished. Sometime later, Rudy sees Deutscher on the street and throws a rock at him. In front of Tommy, Liesel, and Rudy's younger sister Kristina, Deutscher savagely beats Rudy. When Rudy is on the ground, Deutscher pulls out a knife and asks again about Hitler's birthday. Rudy replies, "Easter Monday," and Deutscher cuts Rudy's hair.
A few weeks later Rudy and Tommy begin skipping Hitler Youth meetings. Ultimately, they joined the Flieger Division, a youth group for aviation that mostly built model airplanes.
THE FLOATING BOOK (Part II)
Rudy and Liesel see Franz Deutscher on the street and avoid him, but run into Viktor Chemmel. Viktor takes Liesel's book The Whistler and throws it into the freezing Amper River. Rudy jumps in and retrieves it. Rudy lingers waist-deep in the cold water and asks Liesel for a kiss for the last time.
The power of words to impel violence is explored in this part. Liesel's tirade against Ilsa is perhaps her cruellest moment since beating Ludwig Schmeikl. Liesel tells Ilsa, who has suffered for years over the death of her son, to get over it and pictures Ilsa's face as bloodied and battered from this verbal abuse. Liesel is genuinely angered about Ilsa firing Rosa, and does not regret what she said, though she later tells Hans that she is going to hell.
In Max's fantasies of fighting Hitler, he can take hours of punches one-on-one, then beat the Fuhrer in just seven blows. Yet Hitler then announces that Max is a threat to the German people and commands them to defeat him. Max's cartoon depicting Hitler as a conductor illustrates Hitler's total control over the German people, who obey his commands no matter how violent or illogical they are. Max sees himself as up against an entire brainwashed nation, yet he maintains his fortitude as he exercises.
Just as Arthur Berg from Part Three was one half of a Communist allegory, Viktor Chemmel represents the other, darker half. Chemmel is wealthy, selfish, arbitrary, and cruel for the sake of cruelty. Chemmel perhaps represents the violent excesses of Stalinism, though can also serve as a Hitler stand-in. He steals merely for fun and quotes Hitler's rhetoric: "We must take what is rightfully ours!" Liesel notes how after Arthur Berg left the gang of thieves, none of the other boys took his place as leader -- they were followers, and Chemmel enjoyed telling people what to do. The other boys' blind obedience to Chemmel, even when it is clear that Chemmel does not act in their best interests and is a less effective leader than Berg, is disturbingly similar to the Nazis' obedience to Hitler.
Rudy proves himself to be gallant, foolish, and quite rebellious in this part. Merely by refusing to tell Franz Deutscher Hitler's birthday, Rudy brings upon himself merciless physical punishment -- such is the price of defiant words. The same goes for Rudy's willingness to talk back to Chemmel. Rudy's "losses" here are compensated by his rescue of Liesel's book from the freezing river and the fact that he stands waist-deep in "devastatingly cold water" for a minute. Rudy's apparent selflessness comes with the hidden agenda of wanting a kiss from Liesel, yet by exhibiting such tolerance for physical abuse, Rudy convincingly "proves" his love for Liesel.
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