Saturday, September 24, 2011

Characters that shaped the book thief

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the main character Liesel’s moral compass is influenced by some of the most important people in her life.  She is in a fragile state when her mother puts her in in a foster family with her younger brother who dies before they even arrive, but there are three people who reach out to her and forever influence the person she becomes and the morals she holds.  

Her foster-father Hans Hubermann is the first person to reach out to Liesel and he exemplifies kindness and compassion.  It starts off by him demonstrating his kindness to Liesel, for example comforting her when she has nightmares and teaching her to read.  But as the story continues there are more and more drastic examples of his compassion.  He is called “the Jew Painter” because he painted over slurs written on a Jewish shop front.  In an argument with his son who was a large Nazi supporter he said “I have made many mistakes in my life, but not joining the Nazi Party isn’t one of them” (104).  Unlike his son who asks how Hans can “stand by and do nothing as a whole nation cleans out the garbage and makes itself great” (105).  This attitude, which is also held my the majority of Germany, disgusts Hans, he has a great respect for the Jewish people and humanity as a whole and demonstrates this by doing more than painting over slurs.  Max Vandenburg is the Jewish son of the man who saved Hans life in war who Hans agrees to hide in the basement.  Knowing very well that he is risking his own life, Hans welcomes Max into the safety of his house, demonstrating yet again his incredible sense of compassion.  

Another person who reaches out to Liesel is the fearless neighborhood boy Rudy Steiner.  One of the first descriptions of Rudy is that he is “the boy who refuses to fear the opposite sex, purely because everyone else embraces that particular fear, and he’s the type who is unafraid to make a decision” (49).  Clearly Rudy is very sure of himself and confident in his abilities, therefor he is not afraid essentially of a challenge.  Rudy has an obsession with athletics and Jesse Owens in particular which can be symbolic of his importance to Liesel.  Jesse Owens is a symbol for overcoming adversity and doing your best and more simply the courage to do so.  Which is the value that Rudy reinforces in Liesel.  

Max Vandenburg, who demonstrates perseverance, is the third major influence on Liesel.  Max is a fighter, he even used to be known when he was younger as “the Jewish fist fighter” and every time Liesel encounters him in the book, he is fighting.  When he first arrives at the Hubermann’s he has been hiding for two years, warding off starvation and avoiding capture.  Max also fights the Nazis by painting over the pages of  Mein Kampf and filling the pages that use to be Hitler’s story with his own.  Max’s own resiliency and will to survive is his own form of resistance to Nazi Germany and Hitler.  His perseverance is what allows him to survive Dachau and the Holocaust and be reunited with Liesel, proving to her the true value of perseverance and never accepting defeat.


  1. I read The Book Thief too and was very interested in the different characters that entered Leisels life, especially her foster father. His refusal to hate the Jews despite everything happening in Germany is extreamly admiable, do you think he would have been so supportive of them if one had not saved his life when he was younger?

  2. I really liked the points you raised with the three major characters, especially what you said about Hans. He was very compassionate and selfless throughout the book. You also had good supporting evidence from the book. One thing you could have improved was your conclusion.

  3. Sarah I do believe that Hans would have been the same if his life had not been saved when he was younger. The fact that he is just so genuine about being kind to people makes me believe he would be like that no matter what. But I also believe that people are made by their experiences, so the reason he takes such great lengths to demonstrate his compassion (hiding Max in his basement) is because he has that connection.

  4. Overall this is a really good essay. You did a really good job using evidence and supoorting it to show what influences Liesel and how, although you are lacking a conclusion. Do you think Liesel would have different morals if she did not have these influences and he had never left her mother?

  5. This post is different from the other one I read on the book thief. Someone else wrote about the morality of the narrator, Death. But it's nice to see the morals of the characters them self. I have not read this book, but I feel like it would be hard to latch on to the morality of the characters when they're being overshadowed by such an important narration. So good job Mariah!