The Book Thief

What is the importance of The Last Human Stranger?

book thief

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The Last Human Stranger

There were people everywhere on the city street, but the stranger could not have been more alone if he were empty. (72.14)

That's a quote, from The Last Human Stranger. We don't know much more about it other than that it's the last book that Liesel steals from the mayor's library. Of course, the title and the quote do tell us plenty. They sum how Liesel is feeling as the number of days since Max left pile up, and as she finally lets go of the nightmare of Werner. She's frustrated with her world and is having trouble keeping up hope. We also see allusions to Hans, Rudy, and Liesel giving bread to Jewish prisoners marching to Dachau. Each Jewish person walking is a stranger, surrounded by people but all alone.

Similarly, people publically resisting, with even something as small as a crust of bread, are strangers in a crowd of indifference. Being strange in this context means being alone, being lonely, being alienated, being hungry and cold, as so many people are during these times. But, being strange also means looking for unusual ways to cope in the strange world.

But what does it mean to be the last human stranger"? We think it could mean a few things. First a hopeful one – once the last human stranger is no longer strange, no human will be strange to any other human. But there's another way you could look at it. Assuming that all humans are strangers, when the last human stranger is dead, there will be no more humans. Put another way, if Hitler succeeded in killing all the people on his current strange list, he would make another list, and then another, until nobody's left. The complexity of this book's title alone alludes to the growing complexity of Liesel's way of looking at and living in the world, in addition her loneliness and alienation.

It almost always conjures images of Max. The book prepares her to make contact with him, at all costs, when she sees him marching to Dachau after being captured by the Nazis. In that scene, we see Liesel risk her life when she tries to follow him. This is a complicated moment for her. On the one hand, she's being brave and making a stand against injustice. On the other hand, her behavior could have cost her and Max their lives. Luckily, Rudy intervenes. The irony here, of course, is that Max survives the war and Rudy does not.