Theft is a central theme for the novel The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, because of the time in which it is set. War is a power struggle, and a battle for dominance over people and territory. Hitler was stronger than the German people, and convinced them through his powerful words to treat those who did not meet his idea of perfection as inferior. Liesel’s somewhat trivial theft acts in juxtaposition with the larger theft of innocence and purity that Hitler causes. Hitler stole the lives of the German people throughout the war, and also the lives of all those who did not fit the Aryan stereotype. This theft helped to demonstrate that he was in control of their lives, and that he was invincible. Liesel is only a small girl, the picture of naivete. As the story begins we see that Liesel will unfortunately not be able to keep her purity for long. Death introduces us to Liesel; “there was one mother and her daughter. One Corpse,” (Zusak, 4). The reader is first brought to the picture of the mother and daughter which seems peaceful and appropriate.
It is then contrasted with the corpse. The word “corpse” is harsh and helps to show that the picture first painted is not innocent, it is contaminated by death. Liesel’s personal purity is stolen, when death steals her brother’s life. There is a atmosphere of stolen possessions throughout the novel, be it people or objects, helping to achieve the atmosphere of war. This was a time when children stole for entertainment and the government stole for domination. As Liesel learns the power of words, she recognizes what the Fuhrer is doing. Her stealing is what leads her to realize the power which the Fuhrer holds. Hitler was a powerful leader because he was able to manipulate the minds of his people. Max helps to illustrate the influential power which the Fuhrer had in his story The Word Shaker.
He writes, “the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words,” (Zusak, 445). Through the knowledge which Hitler had, he was able to steal the minds of his people and mislead them. Liesel is exposed to using this power as she reads to the families in the bomb shelter. They are all captivated and calmed by the words which she utters and even the sound of the bombs is placed in the backs of minds as they listen to a small girl tell a simple story. The same words which gave Hitler power to take over Germany and steal the lives of people, Liesel uses to calm and distract the people. This would not have been possible except for the fact that she stole the books.
Through her stealing of the books, she is able to escape parts of what Hitler is stealing from her family. Theft helps to show not only the strain put on those who did not fit the perfect race, but also the pressure which was part of being the perfect race. This idea is made most clear when Liesel exclaims that she “[hates] the Fuhrer,” (Zusak, 115) for that is when Hans, who belongs to “the 10 percent who didn’t” show “unflinching support for Adolf Hitler,” (Zusak, 63) “slapped [her] squarely on the face . . .and. . . [contemplated] one of the most dangerous dilemmas a german citizen could face,” (Zusak, 116).
Even though he too hates Hitler, one must never make that hatred public, for Hitler has the ability to steal a German citizen’s life. Theft is a huge part of the novel, The Book Thief, in more than just helping to define what it is. The amount of theft in this book was at points overwhelming as the reader holds his breath again and again as Liesel puts herself in harms way for one item or another. The stealing throughout the book helps to show how this attitude seeped even into even the most innocent of the people. Everyone was a victim and everyone was a perpetrator.