Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Essay on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Teacher: Adrienne Buckingham of Otago Boys' High School

In the novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the narrator who is known only as ‘Death’ is a critical thinker which makes Death’s point of view very engaging for a modern audience.  Death tells the story of Liesel, an ordinary German girl living in Germany during World War Two.  Death’s point of view is very engaging for a modern audience because he provides his own insights and observations about humanity and tells the story from a German perspective rather than an Allied perspective, which is what we are used to reading.

Through his insightful narration, Death conveys to us Zusak’s idea of the duality of humanity.  One of the main ideas within this idea is that of the beauty in ugliness.  This idea is best shown to us through Liesel’s best friend, a young man named Rudy Steiner.  Rudy is the perfect physical example of a Nazi; he has “beautiful blond hair and big safe blue eyes” and he is a fine athlete.  However, mentally he hasn’t got a Nazi moral in him.  Zusak tells us this through Rudy’s actions.  When the Jews are being paraded through Molching (where Rudy and Liesel live) to the death camp, Dachau, Rudy puts bread on the road for the Jews to eat, even though this is very dangerous and he is starving himself.  This small act of kindness is a beautiful act in the ugly world of Nazi Germany.  Death foreshadows Rudy’s untimely demise by saying “he didn’t deserve to die the way he did.”  Zusak is using Death as a narrator to make insightful judgements of human’s character through their actions to portray the idea of beauty in ugliness.

The triumph of love over hate is another part of the duality of humanity which Zusak uses Death to show.  This idea is best portrayed to us through the relationship of Liesel and Max, a Jew who Liesel’s foster parents, the Hubermans, take in and hide in their basement during the Holocaust.  In Nazi Germany at the time, their relationship is very much illegal due to the antisemitic  laws and views of Nazism.  However, it is this hate and oppression which brings them together and helps to develop the love between them.  Zusak uses two events to really show us the strength of their love.  The first is when Max is being marched through the main street of Molching on his way to Dachau after being caught.  Liesel spots him in the crowd, and despite the danger of even waving to him, she runs out and hugs him.  “Her feet heavier than they had ever been before, heart swelling in her chest, she stepped onto the road.”   Zusak uses this act to show that sometimes the pull of love is far stronger than the fear of any punishment.  The second event is when after the war, Liesel is working in a shop and a man comes in looking for her.  She comes out and sees Max and in the words of Death “They both fell to the floor, and hugged and cried.”  Through the narration of Death, Zusak shows us that Max somehow managed to survive Dachau.  Zusak is suggesting that the power of Liesel’s love was enough to overcome the hate of Nazism and gave Max the strength to survive. 

Death tells the story of World War Two from the perspective of a German civilian which is very different because we are so used to hearing the story from an Allied point of view.  This critical perspective makes the story even more engaging for a modern audience as Death gives us a look into a side of the war we have not really seen before.  In one of Death’s asides throughout the novel, he states “I have observed and been horrified by humans.”  This statement captures our attention because normally humans theorise about, and are horrified by, the thought of death.  Zusak has Death say this shocking statement to convey the reality of World War Two.  Not only was it the Nazis, Allies and the Jews who suffered terribly during the war, but it was also the civilians and the people left behind after loved ones had died.  Liesel is a perfect example of the ordinary civilian who doesn’t support the Nazis but has got caught up in their war.  At the start of the book, she loses her brother and is adopted by a new family.  Then when Himmel Street is bombed, she loses just about everyone she loves.  Death illustrates to us the pain and even the survivors guilt that this causes: “It was the survivors I couldn’t stand to look at… They had torn hearts.  They had beaten lungs.”  Through Death, Zusak shows us a side of the pain which war causes that is often overlooked, but which can be worse than dying itself.  Zusak also reminds us that this pain was not limited to the Allies who had lost loved ones, but was just as relevant in the heart of Germany.

In conclusion, the narrator must be a critical thinker if the point of view of the text is to be engaging for a modern audience.  Death as a narrator is a critical thinker who Zusak uses to portray the idea of the duality of humanity and to show us a part of the war which is rarely presented to us.   


1 comment:

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