Markus Zusak's Novel "The Book Thief"

Point of View - Death- First person omniscient

Relationship to meaning: Death is the narrator who switches from first person to first person omniscient, which conveys the emotions of other characters of the story as well as death.

Plot Structure


The novel is introduced with death narrating the scene. Death comes when someone is dying therefore he comes and picks up a six year old boy named Werner on a train. His sister Liesel and his mother must make a stopping point during their trip to bury him.

As Liesel and her mother are saying their farewells, the grave digger had dropped a book called The Grave Diggers Handbook. Liesel takes the book without anyone noticing, therefore getting her name the book thief. As they complete their trip arriving in Munich, Liesel says her goodbyes to her mother due to the war and not being able to care for her. Liesel must go with the foster authorities to her new home.

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She meets her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann.

Inciting Incident

As liesel adjusts to her new home she meets a boy named Rudy Steiner, they become close friends and grow a special friendship. Hans and Liesel read every night ever since Liesel started getting her nightmares and wetting her bed. As a result, Hans would come and comfort her and clean the sheets. As Hans was cleaning the sheets a book falls out from under the covers. It was the Gravedigger's Handbook. He asked if she wanted to read it and she said yes, as of then Hans starts teaching her the alphabet and how to read some words.

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This became a somewhat tradition and their bond grew stronger over time.

Events contributing to rising action

Hans takes Liesel to a bonfire in town to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday. For the celebration everyone must put their Nazi flags up unless they want to get arrested, Nazis also go into jewish households to gather jewish books to burn in the bonfire. Before Liesel leaves, she manages to steal a book that survived the burning, unfortunately the mayor's wife saw her pick up the book. Luckily as Liesel goes to drop off the laundry at the mayor's house, Ilsa, the mayor's wife invites her inside into a room of books. A young man named Max Vandenburg shows up to the Hubermann house telling Hans how he's Erik Vandenburg's son. Erik Vandenburg is a man to thank, he saved Hans's life by nominating him as the soldier with the best handwriting, after nobody volunteered. This allowed Hans to help write letters while the rest of the men fight. Hans ended up not going to war and being the only man to survive.

Climax (Crisis/turning point)

As there is a jewish parade on Himmel street, Hans Hubermann notices a man who fell, a soldier repeatedly forces him to get up, Hans approaches the man and gives him a piece of bread. A Nazi soldier notices and starts whipping the jewish man and then moves on to Hans. Now that the Nazis noticed that Hans is helping the jews, Hans tells Max to flee in case the Nazis decide to come and inspect the house. Thankfully by the time the Nazis came to inspect the house, Max was gone. As the Nazis came in they told Hans that they wanted to recruit him into the army as punishment for what he did at the parade.

Events contributing to falling action

As there is many bombings frequently around Munich, everyone goes into shelter when the radio says that an air raid is close. One night as everyone is asleep, there is no warning and it hits. The air raid hits Himmel street and the only survivor Liesel Meminger.


Liesel is rescued after the bombing to find out that all her family is dead. She gives Hans his accordian, as a symbol of her love for him.Then she goes on to find Rudy, her best friend dead, she kisses him and says her goodbyes. Alex Steiner, Rudy's father comes back from the war and allows liesel to work with him at his tailor shop. Suddenly, a man walks to Alex and asks for a girl named Liesel, it was Max. Liesel and Max hug and cry with happiness.

Other Significant Structural Elements: The author uses foreshadowing and flashbacks to portray the importance of Deaths point of view.



  • Name and significance- Liesel Meminger, a young girl who goes by the name the book thief because of her thievery of books.
  • Characteristics and thematic significance- A brave and kind hearted young girl who has a passion of reading.
  • Change or epiphany and thematic significance- Liesel is forced to cope with the loss of her brother and separation of her parents, but she matures throughout the story and ends up liking her new home and family.


  • Name and significance- The Nazi Party, shaped Liesel's life and point of view of her surroundings.
  • Characteristics and significance- They are a group of heartless ,cruel and careless men who take over Germany and execute jews. They affected most parts of Liesel's life, and killed off the people she cared most for and left her with nothing.

Other Significant Characters

  • Name and significance- Hans Hubermann was the first person who Liesel actually felt comfortable talking to, this relationship had a lot of meaning to Liesel because Hans helped her learn how to read.
  • Characteristics- Hans Hubermann is a sensitive,comforting, warm hearted and compassionate man since the beginning of the book, because it clearly displays how much he cares about Liesel.
  • Thematic or plot-oriented purpose- He plays an important fatherly figure in Liesel's life.
  1. Name and significance- Rudy Steiner, is Liesel's first friend in Molching. He is loving and friendly with her since they met.
  2. Characteristics- He is a loving and compassionate boy who loves Liesel and will keep her safe.
  3. Thematic or plot-oriented purpose- He is really involved in Liesel's life including her thievery. He also is her lover and bestfriend.
  • Name and significance- Max Vandenburg, a jewish man who is hiding in the Hubermann household because his father saved Hans life and now hans is repaying it to Erik Vandenburg's son.
  • Characteristics- He's brave,friendly, and kind hearted. He grows closer to Liesel and they develop a strong bond due to their passion of writing.
  • Thematic or plot-oriented purpose- Max leaving made Liesel realize how much damage the Nazis were doing to jewish people and how much hiding and running away they must do.


Place and symbolic significance- Liesel lives in Molching, Germany, a small fictional town near Munich in a neighborhood on Himmel street. The town at first seems really gloomy but this resembles Liesel's feelings when she first arrived and when she was having a hard time adjusting to her new foster parents.

Time period and contextual significance- During World War II where hitler is discriminating jews and getting all of them out of Germany. Time span- from 1939 to 1943.


Main conflict

Type of conflict- man vs man. Values embodied in conflict (expressed as opposition—something vs. something) Liesel against Nazis because, the Nazis impacted and reflected on the people that mattered most to her, they didn't affect her personally but they impacted her surroundings.

Thematic significance of conflict- The Nazis corrupted Liesel's thoughts about communism and how it had to do with her actual family and foster family. The Nazis also impacted her relationships with her close friends and family members.

Minor conflicts and thematic significance

Type of conflict- Man vs Man. Values embodied in conflict (expressed as opposition—something vs. something) - Max against Hitler because, Max has to flee from Nazis just because he's a jew. Being a jew in this era created many conflicts for him because he couldn't be seen in the Hubermann household.

Thematic significance of conflict- Maxs hiding portrayed to Liesel how dangerous the Nazis were to people who tried and helped jews. Watching Max flee broke her heart because he was a good person who didn't deserve to be treated differently because he's a jew.

Type of conflict- self vs self

Values embodied in conflict (expressed as opposition—something vs. something)- Liesel is trying to decide whether to steal a book from the mayor's library, its a tough decision because Ilsa, the mayor's wife, has offered for her to come in the house, but after she said she wouldn't want her services of laundry anymore Liesel was devastated and decided to steal the books instead of going in to see Ilsa.

Thematic significance of conflict- Liesel learns that Ilsa is a nice person and only wants to give her what's best she realizes this when she gives Liesel a journal to write her stories in instead of reading someone else's. Another time Liesel notices that Ilsa cares for her is when Liesel had just lost everything, her family and her friends. Ilsa takes her to her home and lets her stay for a while,

Symbols and Motifs

The accordian brings comfort and hopeto hans soul due to the fact that it was his life saver who gave him the accordion. For Liesel it plays as a distraction. When Hans goes off to fight in the war the accordion was something that Rosa held at night to remind her of Hans and symbolize him. Liesel gave hans his accordian when she saw him dead to symbolize her love for him.

Hans accordion symbolizes love and the representation of it, he took this accordion after Max's father saved his life and he will carry it with him till the day he dies, cherishing the life he gave him, but also for liesel this represents hans passion to play music for as well as a way they bond.

Winter represents the sad stage she was in, her brothers loss, leaving her mother, her father being taken away by the communists, and moving to a foster home. This represents that love is weakness, but also to her brother werner death is unpredictable but you should continue your life either way.

Basements symbolizes hiding and protection from the outer world during the bombing. It also represents danger but comfort at the same time for Max, a hiding jew. This represents the two sided theme, the Hubermanns had one life out of their house and the other one including Max in the picture.

The bread symbolizes the innocence of jews and the giving of the people who don't support the discrimination. Liesel and Rudy once left bread for the jews in hope to see Max, Liesel's jewish friend. Another time is when Hans gives a man a piece of bread because of his struggling to walk in a jewish parade. The giving of the bread was an act of kindness to the jewish people.

Significance of Title

The reason for the title is because its her book, her life, and every single one of her books shaped her in some way or form into the person she becomes by the end of the book. Each book that she stole also represents part of her story and journey.

Thematic statements

State in declarative sentence general truths this story reveals about life and/or human nature—be specific and no clichés.

  • 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.
  • People are two faced.
  • defiance and self-actualization.
  • The more people you let into your heart the more people you have a chance of loosing.
  • love is weakness.
  • Death is unpredictable and inevitable, but one should continue to live life freely, regardless of the fact.


Historical- The story was based during World War II where Adolf Hitler ruled and jews were being discriminated from everyone else.

Biographical- The story was partly based on things Zusak's mother and father told him, and he created it all in to a story. For example, his mother saw jews being taken away to the concentration camps, she saw that an old man couldn't keep up, and a boy gave him a piece of bread and as punishment they were both whipped, one for giving the bread, and one for taking it. His mother's foster father refused to fly the Nazi flag, but if they didn't fly the flag the Nazis would come for them. His father was in the Hitler youth group. These are just a couple of examples of real life stories incorporated into his book.

Personal Impact (how it relates to you)- This book had lots of meaning to me it helped me understand the meaning of a true bond of love between two people it also made me realize how many things we have in our life to live up to even without the people who matter most to us.

5 Key Quotes

“You could argue that Liesel Meminger had it easy. She did have it easy compared to Max Vandenburg. Certainly, her brother had practically died in her arms. Her mother abandoned her. But anything was better than being a Jew.”- Markus Zusak

“Even death has a heart.” -Markus Zusak

“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” -Markus Zusak

“My heart is so tired” -Markus Zusak

“She was saying goodbye and she didn't even know it.” -Markus Zusak

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.” -Markus Zusak


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Markus Zusak's Novel "The Book Thief". (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

Markus Zusak's Novel "The Book Thief" essay
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