The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Literature Analysis

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Point of view: first person omniscient

Relationship to meaning: Death provides a thought provoking perspective on Liesel’s story and the events that occurred in her life by being able to provide insight that only an outsider looking in could give the reader.

Plot Structure


The story starts off by introducing Death as the narrator, then proceeds to introduce the main character, Liesel, and her family. We learn that Liesel’s mother is no longer able to take care of Liesel and her brother, and all three of them are on a train making their way to a place called Molching, where their mother will be leaving Liesel and her brother, Werner, in the care of foster parents.

Inciting Incident

On the way to Molching, Werner falls sick and dies; this is the first conflict Liesel faces. They stop in a small town to bury his body, while waiting one of the gravediggers drops a book and Liesel picks it up and takes it with her, this is the first book she’s ever taken and ultimately it was the start of her love for books.

Events contributing to rising action – Liesel finally arrives to Molching and is given over to her new parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel slowly starts to adjust to her new life with the Hubermanns, she starts school, and befriends a boy on her street named Rudy, who’d later become her best friend and fall in love with her. One day Hans finds the book that Liesel had stole from the gravedigger, when he asks her about it she wasn’t able to answer which leads him to figure out that she couldn’t read.

He takes it upon himself to teach her, late at night when she couldn’t sleep they’d go down to the basement and read together, this created a strong bond between the two. Later they attend a bonfire in celebration of Hitler’s birthday and that was the when Liesel was finally able to piece together why she had moved to Molching, she figures out that Hitler and the Nazis were the reason why her mom is gone and her brother dead. She finally starts to understand the evil around her and she starts to think for herself.

This is also when she steals her second book, after the celebration as everyone was leaving she saw that a book had fallen off the bonfire and had not been burnt, she quickly grabs it, as she was leaving she looked around and noticed a lady had seen her take the book. Liesel then starts delivering laundry for Rosa, one of the houses Liesel had to deliver to was the house of the house of the lady who saw Liesel steal the book at the bonfire, Ilsa Hermann, she invites Liesel in and lets her read the books in her library.

Climax (Crisis/turning point)

With tension increasing and Germany being at the brink of war. One night a jewish man named Max arrived at the Hubermann’s door needing a place to hide. Max’s dad had known Hans a long time ago when they were both serving in the German military during World War 1, Max’s dad had died saving Hans life, in return Hans promised Max’s mom years ago that he’d help them in any way he could and gave her his address, so naturally when Max showed up at his door years later, Han’s stayed true to his promise and let him in.

Events contributing to falling action

Liesel and Max instantly became good friends, the two could relate since they both had lost so much to the Nazis, Max encouraged Liesel’s love of books and even wrote her two of them during his time with the Hubermanns.

As the war got worse the Nazis started looking through basements on each street to serve as air raid shelters in the event of an emergency, thankfully when they checked the Hubermann’s basement they were able to keep Max hidden. One day while delivering laundry to Ilsa’s house, Ilsa informs Liesel that she could no longer afford to get her laundry done, this causes Liesel to lash out at her by stealing books from her library.

The Nazis would periodically march the Jews from the concentration camps around town, during one of these parades Hans gives a Jew some bread, this had severe consequences, it put Hans on the Nazi’s agenda making it unsafe for Max to live with them, which leads Max to secretly leave one night to avoid getting all of them in trouble, Hans also end up getting enlisted into the army.

The Nazis also tried to recruit Rudy for elite training, when Rudy’s family refused they enlisted his father as punishment. Death encountered Liesel for the second time when he goes to collect the soul of an American fighter pilot who had crashed in the forest near their town, Rudy and Liesel went to see the pilot in one of their attempts to rebel against the Nazis.

Many weeks later in another parade Liesel sees Max and goes up to him resulting in Rudy finding out about Max. Ilsa came to Liesel’s house one day and gave her a journal to write in as a way of saying that she forgives Liesel. One night when Liesel is down in the basement writing in her journal, there’s an air raid on her street. The next morning Liesel wakes up in rubble and is devastated by her family and friends passing.


Although Liesel experienced many hardships, she was able to persevere and prevail in the end. After the war concluded Max goes to back to Molching to find Liesel and they’re able to reconnect. When Death comes to collect Liesel’s soul he sees that she was able to live a long prosperous life, start a family, and finish her book.

Other Significant Structural Elements

The Jesse Owens incident, this is a flashback from Rudy’s life that gives us more insight into Rudy’s character and why he acts the way he does later in the book. We also get additional information on Max’s life before the war such as the fact he was a fist fighter, and this gives us insight on how much Max was truly affected by having to go into hiding.



Name and significance- Liesel, she is the main character who struggles to be the good when evil is so prevalent around her, and to stand up for what’s right even when it’s diificult.

Characteristics and thematic significance- Liesel is a kindhearted girl who is able to distinguish right from wrong even when she’s surrounded by people who have lost their humanity, she is characterized as someone who stands for morality which goes hand in hand with the theme that has to do with the complexity of human nature.

Change or epiphany and thematic significance- Throughout the story Liesel changes and grows as a character through her experiences, each experience taught her something new. She learns of the evil in the world, how to do the right thing in hard situations, and the power of words. She went from a damaged, upset little girl to a strong willed, compassionate young woman.


Name and significance- Human nature, ultimately the bad parts of being a human lead to the Nazi uprising which caused the main conflict in the book.

Characteristics and significance- Human nature is a double-edged sword, it can go both ways there’s a good side to it and a bad, although both sides have equal chances of prevailing, the main conflict in this book was a result of the bad overpowering the good.

Other Significant Characters

Name and significance

Death, he was the narrator that told the story and recounted it through his perspective.


It is implied that Death feels human emotions, as he expresses sorrow over the that were lost in war, compassion for the souls he collected in the concentration camps, and he repeatedly implies how he feels troubled when watching humans and the way they act.

Thematic or plot-oriented purpose

By using Death as the narrator, we are provided with a different perspective that gives insight that we wouldn’t be able to get from anyone else. Death also has thematic importance as he constantly talks about the complexity of human nature and how it is so difficult to understand.


Place and symbolic significance

Molching, this is where the defining moments of Liesel’s life took place. After losing her mother and brother Molching served as the place where Liesel started over and where she experiences the most growth and change as a person.

Time period and contextual significance

This book is set in the World War II era of Germany, this setting provided the unique perspective of a small town affected by the war and how it affected the common people.

Time span

Most of this story was told over 5-6 years of Liesel’s life, which although doesn’t seem like much, was the most important time in Liesel’s life, this was the time she grew the most as a person.


Main conflict

  • type of conflict- character vs. society
  • values embodied in conflict (expressed as opposition—something vs. something)- Liesel vs. the evils associated with human nature
  • thematic significance of conflict- Liesel’s understanding of right and wrong is what gives her her humanity, when she understands the bad she can choose to be the good; the main conflict is that Liesel understands that what’s going on around her is wrong but there’s virtually nothing she can do to make it right.

Minor conflicts and thematic significance- Liesel faces many conflicts throughout the book such as the loss of her family, not bing able to read when she initially starts school causing the other kids to make fun of her, the departure of Max and seeing him in the concentration camp, along with many internal conflicts. Although these conflicts don’t exactly play a huge role in the book, they all fundamentally shaped Liesel and who she grew up to become.

Symbols and Motifs

Significance of Title

It’s obvious the title refers to Liesel, as she is the book thief. she was given this name by her best friend, Rudy, after she had snuck into Ilsa’s house to steal books. When he first called her the book thief it seemed like it meant nothing to her, but later we find out that the memoir she wrote about her life was titled “The Book Thief,” so obviously the name had some type of deeper meaning to her.

Thematic Statements

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

Human nature is complicated, it can’t be understood, but it can be addressed.

Words are the most powerful weapon of all, they can either strengthen a cause or diminish it into nothing. Words have the potential of being the best thing for humans or the worst, it’s just based on how they’re used.



The book is set in World War II and, so of course the author uses a lot of context from this time period to provides insight into what it was like to live in that time period and experience the adversities associated with war firsthand.


Markus Zusak probably decided to write another book about the holocaust because he only touched on the subject in “The Book Thief,” he probably wanted to elaborate on it more, because in “The Book Thief,” isn’t mainly about the Holocaust, it’s about the war as a whole and how it affected the lives of a small town in the midst of it. Also the book thief was written in a very unique perspective, as seen through Death’s eyes, so maybe he wanted to write his next story in a more conventional way.

Personal Impact

After reading “The Book Thief,” it made me question society and human motives; it made me think about how even in the worst situations, good can prevail and flourish. It also made me realize how important words actually are and how significant they are to history and human nature.

5 Key Quotes

  • “I am haunted by humans” -Death

Death says this at the very end of the book when he goes to collect LIesel’s soul, this is the point when he figures out that he wasted all this time trying to figure out humans just to find out that the only thing he truly knows is that he’ll never fully understand them.

  • “Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then doing it twenty-four hours a day.” -Liesel

Liesel says this after Max came to live with them, she said that in reference to how hard it was to act normally when there’s this whole mess of emotions bottled up and there’s no way to let it out.

  • “I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at their enemy. They are not. That are running to me.” -Death

Death says this at the part of the story where , this quote points out how meaningless war is, that even though humans think they’re fighting to honor their beliefs, ultimately they’re just putting themselves in danger and eventually will die at the hands of war and all of it will end up being so insignificant.

  • “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.” -Death

Death says this when Max was able to escape doom at the hands of the Nazis by leaving his family and going to find Hans, this quote gives us a deeper understanding of what it was like to be Jewish at the time and how hard it was for them. Death tells us that even though Liesel had gone through so much hardship and difficulty it’s still nothing compared to being a Jew.

  • “Once words had rendered Liesel useless, but now…she felt an innate sense of power. It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence. She was a girl, in Nazi Germany. How fitting that she discovered the power words.” -Death

Death said this at the time when Liesel was first learning how to read, this was the start of her passion for books and this was the first time she felt power over something in her life. The power she felt through the words stuck with her, and later evolved into the theme of the power of words.

Cite this paper

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Literature Analysis. (2021, Feb 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-book-thief-by-markus-zusak-literature-analysis/

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