Analyse how the experiences of one or more characters were used for a particular purpose.
‘The Book Thief,’ a novel written written by Markus Zusak, follows the life of a girl in Nazi Germany. Liesel Meminger, the main protagonist, had the first crucial experience when her brother dies on their journey to Molching. This death leaves a hole in Liesel that will need to be filled by something or someone. Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father, was drafted into the first world war to fight for Germany. The experience leads to the son of the man who saved his life, a jew, staying in their basement. After the Fuhrer’s birthday rally Liesel rescues a book from a burnt heap. Liesel was spotted by Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife, and the experience coaxes Ilsa from her depression. Frau Hermann forms an attachment to Liesel which ends up saving her life towards the end of the book.
In the beginning of ‘The Book Thief’ Death, the narrator, comes for Liesel’s brother. “There was an intense spurt of coughing. And soon after – nothing.” Liesel is on a train journey to join a new foster family when her brother becomes suddenly ill and dies. The purpose for this experience was so that Death could be introduced to Liesel’s story. Death was intrigued by how she seemed to notice him; she seemed to ‘catch him out.’ Markus Zusac uses Death’s interest in Liesel to stem the reader’s interest. If someone as mysterious as Death finds her interesting, then there must be something special to come? Liesel losing her brother leaves her distraught and with a feeling of loss. “The gravediggers…one of them couldn’t have been more than fourteen…a black book fell innocuously from his coat pocket.” Liesel steals the book to try and bring a sense of control back to her life. ‘The gravedigger’s Handbook,’ the stolen book, also becomes a gateway through which she learns to read. It fascinating how ‘The book Thief’ is written so that Death is always in the background; this is a metaphor for how Nazi Germany was in the 1940’s. Death was a constant companion, as there were so many ways one could be endangered. For the war itself, the danger of bombings and bullets; for going against Nazi ideals, the threat of being ‘taken away.’
Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster father was drafted into the First World War to fight for Germany. The morning before his platoon was to leave to battle, Hans’ Sergeant asked them, “Who’s got neat handwriting?” Hans’ friend, Erik Vandenburg, recommended him, “He obviously thought today wasn’t the appropriate time for his friend to die.” Hans’ entire platoon was killed, while he wrote letters for his commander. The purpose for Hans being saved by Erik, a Jew, was for him to form views which went against the Nazi party. Hans being fond of Jews makes him a likable character in the text. It also sets up for Erik’s son to seek refuge in the Hubermann’s basement. Max Vandenburg puts a huge risk on the Hubermann’s during the Nazi regime. This risk becomes too great after Hans makes a big mistake, “Oh my God, Liesel, what have I done?” When Jews are being paraded through Molching, Hans spots one struggling and rushes to help. Hans is whipped, along with the Jew, in front of the crowd of onlookers. The Hubermanns can’t look after Max any longer for fear of the police coming to inspect their house. This relates to the real world as German citizens who were found to be sheltering Jews during WWII were killed or imprisoned. This made it really hard for nice people to do the right thing in those times. The right thing often went against the policies of the Nazi’s which meant danger.
After the Fuhrer’s birthday rally, Liesel was drawn to the burnt piles of ‘Anti-German’ books. Liesel manages to rescue a live book from the ashes. “There was no mistaking the watched feeling.” Liesel noticed that the mayor’s wife had seen her take the book. During Liesel’s washing run she has to collect from the mayor’s house, but she is scared to approach the house, for fear of getting punished. When she gathered the courage to knock on the door, Frau Hermann motions Liesel inside. The mayor’s wife, however, does not lead her to punishment, but to the mayor’s library, “It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.” Liesel couldn’t believe her eyes at the amount of books which the room contained. When the reader first meets Frau Hermann she is a depressed woman, absent from reality, forever mourning the loss of her son. The purpose for the relationship between Frau Hermann and Liesel is to snap the mayor’s wife out of her daze. Now that she has someone else to share her books with she becomes empathetic towards Liesel. This is shown when bombs are dropped on Himmel street and Liesel is left without family. Frau Hermann feels a responsibility to take Liesel in and give her a home. This relates to the real world as people can get ‘stuck’ or trapped in a depressed state, such as the one Ilsa Hermann was in. These mental illnesses are hard to break from, unless people seek help. In this case, Liesel becomes the help Frau Hermann needed.
‘The Book Thief’ written by Markus Zusac is a well thought out book. Zusac uses the experiences of a few characters, to set up events in the lives of others. Liesel Meminger’s brother dies at the beginning of the book to lead Death into her life. Her brother dying also makes her feel as though she has to take back control of her life. She does this by stealing a book, which later becomes her way of learning to read. Liesel’s foster father, Hans, was drafted to serve in WWI. Hans was saved by his Erik Vandenburg which leads to Max, his son, staying in their basement. Liesel steals another book, this time from a Nazi book burning rally. Frau Hermann sees her take the book and realises they share a love for books. This forebears Liesel reading in the mayor’s library and breaking Ilsa’s depression. Ilsa forms a friendship with Liesel which ends up saving Liesel’s life.