Imagery In The Book Thief

Categories: The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a historical novel written by Australian writer Markus Zusak and published in 2005. The Book Thief is a novel narrated fully by a compassionate Death character who tells us about Liesel, a young girl growing up in Germany during World War II. She steals books, learns to read, and finds a love for words. She and Max, the Jew her family protects, are the only main characters that survive the war. The film was released in late 2013 and covers the same main aspects of the book and was directed by Brian Percival.

The passage/clip I will be analyzing is The Snowball Fight which takes place rather late in both the film and the Novel. More specifically, I will be looking at the message or any other significant changes that could have been made in comparison to the film to fully convey Zuzak's original message more successfully. Therefore I will be looking at how the author and director of The Book Thief film and book communicate setting and characterization through the use of literary devices and film techniques.

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The setting provides a backdrop for the action — not just as factual information but as an essential part of a story's mood and emotional impact. The careful portrayal of the setting can convey meaning through interaction with characters and the plot. Zusak uses symbolism and imagery to display an image in our mind and get a sense of the current setting surrounding the characters. The quote 'Papa Disagreed. It won't melt.

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'He rubbed his hands and blew into them.' It's freezing down here.' (322). This quote emphasizes the conditions of the setting that all the characters are currently in. By Hans (Papa) rubbing his hands and blowing into them, he is generating warmth between his hands. The reason the author chose to describe it in this way is that it's a common thing to do when it's cold. This familiarity makes it easier for the reader to understand the cold because it's something they can relate to. Rather than just stating 'it was cold' we can use our imagination to re-enact the feeling of cupping our hands together and blow a misty cloud into our palms to keep our hands warm. The literary devices in this short quote convey the setting effectively, which is the author's purpose.

Director Brian Percival portrayed the same scene in quite a different way. Percival uses mise en scene and more specifically, the use of props, color, costume, lighting, and framing/composition. These specific aspects of the film are used to replicate the same fragment that is told by Zusak but in a visual way. The part of the clip where these aspects are best used is '1:12-1:20'. These short eight seconds provide us with a clear idea of the setting. The right to left camera pan from 1:12-1:16 show all characters in the frame. The props such as the snowman, dark surrounding colors, thick blankets and jackets, and dim lighting make it an ideal setting for what the director is trying to show. Dark colors, dim lighting, and thick blankets/clothing are usually what is associated with the cold and that's why it's been all been incorporated. Besides all of this, a key feature had been missed out in the film version, the warm air that comes from their mouths, which in the story was however mentioned. The setting nevertheless is conveyed effectively through mise en scene, however, with certain key aspects missing.

Characterization is the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character. In The Book, Thief Zusak depicts Max as a very warm character regardless of his current situation. 'Close your eyes, she'd said. Hold out your hands as soon as the snow was transferred. Max shivered and laughed, but he still didn't open his eyes. He only gave the snow a quick taste, allowing it to sink into his lips.' This quote reveals the personality of Max through indirect characterization. The reader can interpret this because Max shivers and laughs in a way to thank Liesel for her kind actions instead of just being narrated. His childlike interaction with the snow shows his warm character and makes it seem as though, just a short while forgetting his situation. The snow and weather reports from Liesel help Max take his mind off the true harsh reality. Max's personality is best indirectly displayed through characterization, letting the reader fill in the blanks, making Max appear like a warmer person.

In the film version of The Book Thief. Percival makes exceptional use of body language and facial expressions to show characterization. In the short clip from 0.08-0.16 seconds, Max is seen being handed snow by Liesel, much like in the Book fragment. However, in this clip, Max's moment appears to be less emotional than in the book; this specific, important scene seems to be overlooked. Max's eyes aren't closed, and the whole scene is very quick, whereas, in the book, it appears to be a longer passionate quote. The only area of this scene where it is mildly close to that of the book is from 0:16-0:17. This short moment where Max is sat cross-legged, cupping the snow in his hands as if it were to be a precious item. Everything is focused around the handful of snow his eyes and body showing how much the snow means to Max. This, as a result of this, shows how the exceptional use of body language and facial expressions show Max's appreciation for the snow and reveals his personality in a better way. (finish off)

In conclusion, both Markus Zusak and Brian Percival can communicate setting and characterization, through the use of literary devices and film techniques to, however, a certain extent. The film version of The Book Thief is limited because scenes cannot be communicated as well as in the book. There is less attention to detail and limited amounts of time, which makes it challenging to replicate each scene as in the book. However, having visuals do help the viewer visualize each scene in a different way that is not possible through reading. For characterization, in the booklets, you get to know characters on a more personal level because of the attention to detail, which reveals the personality of the character better. For setting, on the other hand, I would argue that it is more effectively communicated through film because visuals tend to help set clear images in your mind.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Imagery In The Book Thief. (2024, Feb 06). Retrieved from

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