"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
After encountering Max being forced on the way to a concentration camp, Liesel becomes hopeless and disdainful of the written word, seeing Hitler's words as the source of her suffering. Ilsa Hermann gives her a blank book and encourages her to write; Liesel writes the story of her life, containing both tragedy and beauty, at a fevered pace. Liesel has come to the realization that words can cause both violence and comfort, and she strives to make them "right" by combating vicious propaganda with writing that emanates from selflessness and love.
"You want to know what I truly look like? I'll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue."
Far from being a Grim Reaper-like representation, The Book Thief's Death is a weary and cynical character with the relatively menial duty of carrying away the souls of the recently deceased. Yet Death's job is made more difficult by the sheer number of people who die by the hands of others in World War II -- Death seems to agonize most over the gas chambers, literal killing machines at Nazi death camps. Death thus takes a skeptical view of war and humanity itself, believing humanity to be capable of tremendous and irrational evils.
"Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye."
Carrying souls from the gas chamber in Auschwitz, Death imagines the composition of the sky beyond the rain clouds that cover the death camp. In the face of remarkable tragedy, Death expresses optimism that beyond the horrors taking place on Earth, there exists a vivid and unquestionable hope. The "giant blue eye" is potentially a watchful and just God, whose sight has been obscured while His Chosen People are being massacred by the Nazis.
"They had no qualms about stealing, but they needed to be told. They liked to be told, and Viktor Chemmel liked to be the teller."
After Arthur Berg leaves Molching, Viktor Chemmel takes his place as leader of a small gang of teenage thieves. Unlike Arthur, Viktor is a cruel boy who steals for fun and demands obedience from the others. The notion of desiring to be controlled is allegorical to the German people under Hitler's dictatorship, and this passage suggests the existence of a certain weakness and complacency that leads humans to obey to the worst commands merely for the sake of order.
"Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips. Her eyes had blackened. Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from words. From Liesel's words."
Liesel explodes at Ilsa Hermann, calling her pathetic and telling her to get over the death of her son. She imagines Ilsa's face becoming physically battered by Liesel's cruel invective. Liesel later comes to regret her tirade, as she realizes the power of words to inflict harm on others.
"Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me."
As narrator, Death employs the technique of foreshadowing throughout the novel to reveal, among other things, the fates -- i.e., survival or death -- of individual characters. Just prior to this passage, Death describes how Rudy Steiner dies at the end of the book. Marcus Zusak's employment of foreshadowing places emphasis on the events and "machinations" in Nazi Germany that lead the characters to their ends.
"There were the erased pages of Mein Kampf, gagging, suffocating under the paint as they turned."
Max whitewashes pages of Hitler's propaganda book Mein Kampf and draws an entirely new story upon them: a brief retelling of his life, his family's persecution by the Nazis, and his friendship with Liesel. Just as Hans used the same copy of Mein Kampf to help bring Max to safety, Max boldly transforms Nazi ideology into compassion.
"Did they deserve any better, these people? How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler's gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?"
Death compares the plight of the German civilians cowering in a bomb shelter with the certain death of the Jews trapped in Nazi gas chambers. Death's musings bring up the notion of collective responsibility for Hitler's crimes, and Death wonders how culpable these people are for the ongoing Holocaust. While they are all citizens of a nation in the process of killing millions of innocent people, some, like Rosa and Hans, quietly defy the Nazis by hiding a Jew, while others are defenseless children who cannot possibly be held responsible for crimes planned before they were even born.
"The word shaker and the young man climbed up to the horizontal trunk. They navigated the branches and began to walk. When they looked back, they noticed that the majority of onlookers had started to return to their own places. In there. Out there. In the forest.
But as they walked on, they stopped several times, to listen. They thought they could hear voices and words behind them, on the word shaker's tree."
In Max's story, Hitler grows a forest of propaganda-bearing trees, yet a young girl ("the word shaker") plants an indestructable tree that grows miles high from a seed of friendship. She stays at the top of the tree until her friend ("the young man") meets her there. When they climb down, the tree falls, smashing a large part of Hitler's forest. They walk down the tree trunk, and although most of the indoctrinated people return to Hitler's forest, others quietly follow the two friends. Despite the violent against Jews in Nazi Germany, there were a number of Germans who disagreed, if only quietly, with Hitler's persecution. Max's story aims to encourage Liesel to be brave and willing to counter words of hatred with words of love; these final lines suggest that others would be willing to follow her if she took such a stand.
"I am haunted by humans."
The Book Thief is framed by Death's contemplation of the worth of humanity, and Death's inability to reconcile the remarkable cruelty and the remarkable compassion of which human beings are simultaneously capable. Liesel's life story contains elements of both, and by the end of the novel, Death appears to be no more capable of judging humanity than at the novel's outset. Thus, Death tells Liesel that it is "haunted" by humans, just as humans are haunted by Death. A jaded metaphysical being so used to dying could only be fearful of -- and, at times, amazed by -- those who live.
The Book Thief Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Book Thief is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Ultimately, The Book Thief is framed by Death's ongoing contemplation of humanity. Death finds it impossible to weigh the value of human beings, with some capable of great malice and criminality like Hitler and others capable of great strength...