Markus Zusak's The Book Thief Essay

1528 words - 7 pages

Markus Zusak, an award winning novelist, showcases the power that words can have on the environment around the world. In his novel The Book Thief, he shows the reader that even in a time of forlornness that words will always be one of the most powerful weapons that the human race can ever hope to gain. In the book Liesel Meminger, a German girl, is on her way to the small town of Molching, Germany, near Munich, to meet her future foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel soon learns the true power of the written word; the power to destroy society, while at the same time, the power of having a calming influence on people. At the beginning of the book, Liesel cannot read or write. However, when she does learn to read, she is able to have a somewhat calming effect on the people around her, but on the other hand, Liesel uses the power of words as a way to strip away Hitler’s power over the people of Germany. She is able to utilize words in such a way that it abolishes the fear that is constantly looming over Germany during Hitler’s reign, if only for a brief moment.
The Grave Digger’s Handbook is Liesel’s first theft. The theft of this book represents the last time she sees her brother after he died on the train ride to Molching. Werner Meminger, Liesel’s brother, has a coughing fit and when the coughing stops, so does his life. The narrator, Death, comes onto the train and takes his soul as Liesel watches the light fade from his eyes (19-20). At Werner’s gravesite one of the grave diggers drops his book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook (23-24). Because Liesel is illiterate she is unable to read this book which makes it more of a reminder of the last time that she sees her brother alive. Due to her lack of reading skills she is ostracized in her community. One day during a school break a classmate, Ludwig Schmeikl, makes a snarky comment about her inability to read the simplest of materials (78). In this way the author shows that even in the eyes of children the illiterate are seen as inferior intellectually. Though she is unable to read The Grave Digger’s Handbook, she still holds onto the book in hopes she will be able to read it in the future. One morning Hans is changing her sheets when the book falls out from underneath the mattress (53-54). This is how Liesel begins her lessons in reading and writing.
At the Hubermanns’ house The Grave Digger’s Handbook doesn’t just symbolize the death of Liesel’s brother and the last time she sees her mother, but also the strengthening bonds between Liesel and the Hubermanns. One night Liesel is having a nightmare about her brother’s coughing fit and she gets so scared that she soils the sheets. Her screaming has become a common occurrence and brings Hans into her room to comfort her. When he walks into the room, he smells the soiled sheets. As Hans begins to change the sheets on the bed, the book falls from under the mattress. This is the first time that Hans sees the book. He...

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