The Book Thief

The Book Thief Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Consider Zusak's use of foreshadowing. By revealing how characters die early on, or the outcomes to certain events, does Zusak make the novel less suspenseful or more?

    A proper response should cite specific examples of foreshadowing and make some explanation of why the technique is used. This could be Death's rationale: "It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me" (243). An essay arguing that the novel is more suspenseful because of foreshadowing should involve Death's selective and incomplete revelation of facts and should compare instances of foreshadowing with the actual descriptions of the events being foreshadowed.

  2. 2

    Why do Max and Liesel become friends? What do they have in common?

    Initially Max and Liesel are apprehensive around each other, but they discover that they have something important in common: both have recurring nightmares involving the last time they saw their families alive. Both are political refugees evading Nazi persecution: Max is a Jew, Liesel's parents were Communists. Their similar backgrounds make Max's initial gift of The Standover Man important, as Max ultimately helps Liesel realize the power of words to delight and to harm others.

  3. 3

    Hans manages to survive two World Wars, seemingly by luck. Is Hans merely a fortunate man, or does he have other qualities that help him survive?

    The argument that Hans is indeed lucky should be bolstered by references to other instances of luck or fate saving characters' lives: that the Nazis fail to find Max when inspecting the Hubermanns' basement, that Hans does not formally withdraw his application to join the Nazi Party and is thus spared from being sent to a concentration camp. One quality that helps Hans is his amiability. His friend Erik Vandenberg saves him in World War I, while his willingness to give up his seat to an antagonistic young soldier saves him again in World War II.

  4. 4

    Evaluate the pros and cons of Hans giving bread to an elderly Jew condemned to a concentration camp. Were the consequences worth the benefits?

    Hans' action results in him and the frail, moribund Jew being whipped. Max is forced to leave because Hans' basement is no longer safe for him, and Hans is ultimately conscripted into a physically dangerous position in the military. Yet Hans' public compassion towards the Jew gives the man the feeling of humanity in a nation that has dehumanized him. Hans also sets an example for other German citizens in the crowd, some of whom help him after he is attacked.

  5. 5

    Why does Rudy seem to love Liesel immediately after they meet, and why does Liesel not recognize that she loves him until years after?

    Rudy is introduced as "one of those audacious little bastards who actually fancied himself with the ladies," and he is an impetuous character. He has a strong sense of justice and compassion, and early on he decides to take care of Liesel, an anxious new girl. Liesel is initially annoyed by Rudy's requests for a kiss, but her feelings towards him begin to change after Rudy gallantly retrieves Liesel's book from the icy cold river. Liesel's fixation on Rudy's physical exam is a rare moment of eroticization in the novel, one which might coincide with Liesel reaching puberty. Two important scenes where Liesel becomes nervous and desirous of Rudy: when Liesel gives Rudy a navy blue suit from his father's store, and when Liesel tells Rudy about Max.

  6. 6

    When Liesel reads aloud to the others in the bomb shelter for the first time, a voice inside her says, "This is your accordion." What does that mean?

    Hans' puts his soul into his accordion playing, and the music he produces is joyful. Through reading, Liesel is also able to bring comfort to others. More importantly, Liesel learns towards the end of the novel the capacity for words to cause both pain and happiness. This scene is part of Liesel's realization that she, like Max, can soothe others through words of friendship.

  7. 7

    The mayor's wife Ilsa Hermann strives to help and encourage Liesel throughout the novel, even after Liesel verbally abuses her. Why does Ilsa seem to take such a liking to Liesel?

    Although Ilsa may not actually realize it at first, both she and Liesel have experienced great losses in their lives: i.e., Ilsa's son, and Liesel's brother. Ilsa is an educated woman with her own library, and she might see a part of herself in Liesel's precocity and love of reading. Ilsa has been tormented by her son's death for over two decades, and she urges Liesel at the end of the novel not to let sorrow consume her life.

  8. 8

    Compare and contrast the two stories Max writes for Liesel, "The Standover Man" and "The Word Shaker." Why does Max only want Liesel to have the latter "when she's ready?"

    Both stories reference Max's persecution and his friendship with Liesel. "The Standover Man" is a more heavily illustrated story that Max gives to Liesel as Liesel is still just starting to read. The story is an early affirmation of their friendship. By contrast, "The Word Shaker" contains more text, and the political message is more serious and explicit. Max thinks Liesel might be too old for the allegory, but nevertheless does not want to frighten her with his caustic depiction of Hitler hypnotizing her entire country.

  9. 9

    What is the significance of Hitler's book Mein Kampf within the novel? How do different characters use it?

    Liesel realizes that Mein Kampf and Hitler's propaganda are the source of her misery: the reason for her parents' deaths, the reason for the war, and the reason Max is sent to a concentration camp. Max has a more ironic view, dryly telling Liesel that it "saved his life," as Hans used the book to help Max reach Molching. Max later whitewashes the pages of the book and uses them to write stories for Liesel.

  10. 10

    Why does Death tell Liesel that it is "haunted" by humans?

    Death has witnessed humans commit both acts of great cruelty and acts of great compassion. Death is unable to judge humanity because it cannot understand how humans are capable of both. Death considers the fate of survivors to be more tragic than the fate of the dead, perhaps because of Death's obvious familiarity with dying and blase attitude towards it. It can be argued that Death itself represents just one extreme between life and death, and is thus unable to comprehend the human condition of the living.