Symbolism In The Book Thief Essay

The Book Thief essay

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Question: Analyse how an idea is developed in texts you have studied. Many meaningful language features and techniques are used by Markus Zusak in the historical fiction novel; The Book Thief to develop the idea of humanities extremes. Throughout this book these techniques work together to demonstrate the utter distinction between man-kinds potential for both beauty and cruelty. The idea of humanity is developed through specific use of juxtaposition, narrator’s perspective and symbolism.

This idea is demonstrated frequently in literature which shows how the idea is universal; our capacity for cruelty and beauty isn’t confined to time and place, and will always exist. Many texts juxtapose our extremes in order to show the excessive variation of our potential. Isn’t it strange how we use one extreme in order to gain another? It is like the concept of war; gaining peace through conflict. Markus Zusak also uses juxtaposition to show our confusing and illogical purpose of using ‘ugly’ to find ‘beauty’ and using ‘beauty’ to overcome ‘ugly’.

An incident where this is demonstrated is when Rudy places a teddy bear next to a dying solider in a plane wreck. Using juxtaposition here is effective as it is slightly strange that two opposites are being placed side by side, but this highlights the confusing nature we have; the potential for so much evil and so much good. The choice of narrative perspective in The Book Thief is very appropriate and effective when it comes to the development of the theme of the extremes of humanity. Zusak chose death as the narrator; a strange and unique choice, however it backs up his strange and unique perception of humanity.

Most texts about the Holocaust in WW2 are from a Jewish perspective however to create a different effect Zusak appropriately chooses a different narrator. Death, was a strong character and a very familiar occurrence in the time in Germany when Hitler was ruling. Therefore using narrative perspective helps develop a story line which also develops the idea of the extremes of humanity which was very prominent during this time. The Germans during WW2 would have had the same potential to achieve both good and evil however because of the authority and charisma of Hitler, they were victimized and orced to display only one side of themselves. In amongst these people however there was the occasional exception who sacrificed compassion for peril. One family who did just this was the Hubermann’s in The Book Thief. Death observes their kindness in the book after they take on Max; a Jew who says “Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew”.

The kindness shown by Rosa and Hans was stronger than their fear of being punished; their love was stronger than the hate of Hitler. This is all shown by the narrative perspective of death. Using this character as the narrator serves a very important role as it explores our extremes in an unbiased and removed way because it is an omniscient character. This combines to develop the idea of humanity; that we all have the potential for good and evil and whichever side we show depends on the situation we find ourselves in.

The trick is having the values to know that good always triumphs over evil. In addition, symbolism is another very effective technique used by Zusak in order to display the two extremes of mankind. He uses different symbols to represent different aspects of humanity. A very distinctive and effective symbol used throughout this novel to develop the idea of humanity is Hans’ accordion. This symbol explores the beauty of mankind as it provides Max with hope and demonstrates the capacity for kindness in amongst such cruelty.

He used this to overcome and escape the horrors of his life including the daunting and pressuring aspect of becoming a member of the Nazi’s and the harsh treatment from his wife. Zusak also develops the symbol of the Nazi’s and the swastika. Zusak possibly chose these symbols in The Book Thief to create a memorable effect; to help readers remember how simple symbols actually changed the lives of millions, so much so they are still powerful today. This shows how symbolism was used in The Book Thief in order to develop the theme of humanity.

The extent of our potential in terms of beauty and cruelty is extreme. As death observes in The Book Thief; “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both”. This shows how each one of us has the ability to show incredible kindness and brutality. This also shows all how much more our beauty is valued and how much our cruelty is despised. And lastly it shows the need for more kindness and love in our world today.

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Wars are still being fought, crimes are still being committed. The fact is there will always be evil in man; in every country, in every race, in every age. However we can overcome this and replace it with good. In conclusion I believe Markus Zusak is very successful in developing the theme of humanity using various techniques. Juxtaposition, narrator’s perspective and symbolism are especially successful. They help readers understand the confusing and predictable nature we have because our potential to achieve two extremes is unbelievable.

Author: Brandon Johnson

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The Book Thief essay

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The Power of Words

Words and stories hold tremendous value in the novel, which suggests that they are among the most powerful ways in which people connect with one another. Numerous examples of the ways words connect people turn up throughout the story. Learning the alphabet and how to create words is how Liesel and Hans Hubermann begin to develop their deep bond. Later, Liesel’s descriptions of the weather outside to Max also help to establish a bond between them. The greatest gift Max gives Liesel in the novel is words in the form of the “The Word Shaker,” the story he writes for her. In it, he suggests that words are the most powerful force there is, indicated by the fact that Hitler uses words and not guns or money or some other instrument to take over the world. The story essentially dramatizes the way Liesel has used words to create a refuge for herself in the midst of Nazism, and Max was able to find shelter in her words as well. Liesel later uses words to calm her neighbors during the air raids by reading from her book, and she gives Frau Holtzapfel some comfort with her private readings to her. Ultimately, it’s Liesel’s words in the book she leaves behind after the bombing that establish the emotional connection Death feels to her, and the novel itself creates a connection between the reader and the characters of the story.

Although the novel doesn’t explore the idea as deeply, it also makes clear that words hold the power to spread ideas, and it suggests that power can be dangerous. Again, Max suggests this notion in the book he leaves for Liesel when he says Hitler used words to conquer the world. It’s quite a statement given the amount of suffering we see as a result of Hitler’s control, and it shows that something as insubstantial as words can have drastic real-life consequences. The book burning Liesel witnesses also raises this idea. The Nazis burned books to keep people away from certain ideas, as if those ideas would spread like an infection. They clearly feared those ideas, like the one in the book Liesel steals that a Jew could be a hero, because they could undermine the Nazi ideology and therefore the party’s control over Germany.

The Kindness and Cruelty of Humans

The novel shows the varying degrees of people’s kindness and cruelty, from the slight to the most extreme examples. Among the small acts of kindness we see are Ilsa Hermann inviting Liesel into her library and Rudy giving the teddy bear to the dying pilot represent the kind end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we see similar acts of cruelty, such as Viktor Chemmel’s and Franz Deutcher’s treatment of Rudy. We also see far more dramatic examples of each. The Hubermanns commit a great act of kindness in hiding and caring for Max. They keep him alive at great risk to themselves and always treat him with the utmost respect. Notably, they care for him not only physically by providing food and shelter but also emotionally, making him feel like a part of the family. Liesel in particular is kind to Max, and the two develop a strong bond. Given the political context of the time, with hatred and violence against Jews being rampant, Max clearly finds Liesel’s kindness to be extraordinary. Meanwhile, the concentration camps linger unseen in the background of the book as the most extreme example of cruelty.

One scene in particular juxtaposes the two extremes of human behavior. In it, Hans Hubermann tries to help one of the Jews being marched through town on the way to Dachau. One particular Jewish man is weak and clearly suffering from hunger and exhaustion, and Hans impulsively rushes to him and gives him a piece of bread. It’s a small act, but it shows great kindness. It lets the Jewish man know that not only does Hans not hate him for being Jewish, but he also pities him and wants to ease his suffering. Immediately after, one of the Nazi soldiers mercilessly whips Hans and the Jewish man. The act is cruel to begin with, but its cruelty is heightened by the fact that it comes in response to Hans’s kindness.

The Dualities of Nazi-era Germany

From the moment Rudy paints himself black to emulate Jesse Owens, we see that characters often have two faces, or sides. While on the surface Rudy appears to be an ideal Aryan, so much so that the Nazis try to recruit him into a special training center, inside he emulates an African-American, which directly contradicts Nazi ideology. Max, meanwhile, does something like the reverse. When he travels from Stuttgart to Molching, he poses as a non-Jewish (or gentile) German, calmly reading MKPF, while on the inside he is a terrified Jew who finds the book abhorrent. The book Max later writes, which on the outside bears the cover of MKPF, but the pages of which have been transformed to Max’s story of resistance against the regime, also embodies this theme of duality.

The Hubermanns are part of the theme as well. Once they begin hiding Max, they lead double lives. They pretend to be law-abiding citizens to their friends and neighbors, while inside they harbor their dangerous secret. Hans instructs Liesel about this behavior after he slaps her for saying she hates Hitler in public, explaining that she can feel as she likes in the house, but in public she must behave in a certain way. In fact, duality is a theme of life in general for Liesel and Rudy. Both spend a great deal of time engaged in typical teenage activities like playing soccer in the street. But these moments are broken up with events like the parade of Jews through town, or the bombings that threaten and ultimately destory Himmel Street. The theme suggests that appearances don’t always reflect reality, and also signifies how, in the oppressive political climate of Nazi Germany, many people must express their humanity in secret, subversive ways. Naturally this theme also ties in with the theme of extreme kindness and cruelty that people are capable of, and the two often intertwine.

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