The Theme Of Suffering In The Book Thief By Markus Zusak
In literature, themes are depicted as universal, main ideas or messages that are gathered from the audience’s eyes. In Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, various themes are used to depict the cruelty and unjustness of Hitler, whose government control and moral values pose negative effects onto the protagonist, Liesel Meminger, and her family and friends. As a result, one of the book’s central themes includes the concept of suffering. Throughout these oppressive circumstances, Liesel justifies her suffering as a means of bonding with her loved ones such as her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, best friend, Rudy Steiner, and Jewish friend, Max Vanderburg, for she is able to develop close relationships and unify her family.
First, Liesel connects with her family and friends as she is extremely poor. She lives in an ironic neighbourhood called Himmel Street, otherwise known as Heaven Street, for it is acknowledged as a place of poverty and ignominy. Although the neighbourhood suffers because of their financial situations, Liesel uses this adversity to bond with her loved ones. For example, during Liesel’s very first Christmas with her foster family, she was proud to admit that “there were not many people who could say that their education had been paid for with cigarettes”. Despite being a new member to the Hubermann’s family, this quotation signifies the developing bond between Liesel and her parents. In the beginning of the novel, Liesel was illiterate but motivated by her family to improve her literary skills. In particular, her foster father gave her the encouragement to be a strong reader and and taught her how to read. Although Hans is an avid smoker, he was fortunate enough to find a seller who would trade a book in cigarettes, meaning that he is able to sacrifice one of his hobbies in order to make her foster daughter happy. Hence, Liesel is seen to grow and maintain a strong relationship with Hans through her love of books. In another instance, Liesel bonds with her best friend Rudy by stealing apples from an orchard. As Rudy’s parents cannot afford enough food for Rudy and his four siblings, the narrator, Death, realizes that Liesel’s friendship with him is mainly based on thievery: In fairness, there were many things that brought Rudy and Liesel together, but it was the stealing that cemented their friendship completely. It was brought about by one opportunity, and it was driven by one inescapable force – Rudy’s hunger. The boy was permanently dying for something to eat.
This quotation allows the reader to understand the connection between Liesel and Rudy for their friendship is developed from poverty. During the novel, Liesel is displayed to be less hungry for her foster mother is able to make food for her entire family. In contrast, Rudy’s family is unable to feed all five of their children due to their lack of money, forcing Rudy to steal. As Liesel has previously stolen novels, otherwise known as the book thief, she decides to help Rudy in his quest to search for food as she is concerned about his well being. Furthermore, their collective desire to steal apples implies a sense of coordination and trust between the pair of friends. Rudy has many other friends on Himmel Street prior to Liesel living at the Hubermann’s place and yet, decides to rely on her in order to retrieve apples. As a result, Rudy and Liesel is able to develop a close relationship through dependence on each other and their need to satisfy their hunger. Lastly, Liesel justifies her financial situation as a method to bond with Max, a Jewish man who is hidden in her basement from the Nazi Party. On Christmas Eve, Liesel’s household is described as the “beginning of the greatest Christmas ever. Little food. No presents. But there was a snowman in their basement. Once [the buckets of snow and ice] were full, Liesel brought them in and carried them down to the basement”. This quotation conveys the happiness and connection between Liesel and Max. As Liesel’s family cannot afford a Christmas gift for Max, Liesel is able to obtain a “free” gift by taking buckets of snow and ice. This gift is memorable and meaningful for Max as he is confined to the Hubermanns’ basement as a Jewish man living in Nazi Germany. As a consequence, he is unable to experience the real world outside of the basement and thus is living under the same poverty conditions as Liesel’s family. In this circumstance, Liesel is seen as the messenger who links Max to the outside world and hence her thoughtful gift allows Max to feel free in his confined basement. Hence, he is able to appreciate Liesel and develop a stronger bond with her despite the family being financially disadvantaged. Therefore, the suffering caused by Liesel’s financial situation is not seen as problematic but instead, as an opportunity to create new experiences that unite people together.
Additionally, Liesel is able to bond with her loved ones while being oppressed by the Nazi Party. In particular, Liesel’s relationships revolve around the loss of freedom and/or the loss of innocence. In one example, Liesel and Max are treated as one unified family as the narrator states: “As Liesel thought about it, she realized it was actually appropriate, or even better – perfect – to thank him where the pages were made. They looked on as both the hidden Jew and the girl slept, hand to shoulder. They breathed. German and Jewish lungs”. This quotation occurred after Max had given Liesel his own book known as the Standover Man, which mentions how Liesel treats him as an equal despite being of German blood. Max is portrayed to be suffering as he has no freedom. He is unable to experience the outside world without the fear of being persecuted by the Nazis. Even though Max is afraid of most Germans, he trusts the Hubermanns for they do not judge him by his ethnicity and that they care for him. Moreover, Max understands Liesel’s love for reading and decides to write his own book for her in order to express his gratitude towards her kindness and lack of judgement upon him. Liesel also returns her gratitude for him by sleeping beside him, portraying her lack of fear and her impartiality to his race. Thus, Liesel creates a close relationship with Max for she ensures that he is not discriminated and isolated because of his Jewish blood. On another occasion, Liesel opts to give a daily weather report to Max in order for him to enjoy life. The narrator, Death, comments: It was when Liesel came down, however, that Max found himself most interested in life again. Initially, he tried to resist, but it was harder every day that the girl appeared, each time with a new weather report, either of pure blue sky, cardboard clouds, or a sun that had broken through like God sitting down after he’d eaten too much for his dinner.
This quotation signifies the formation of the close relationship between Liesel and Max. Although Max is a Jewish man, Liesel decides to become friends with him and to not discriminate against his race. For Max, Liesel is the only connection between him and the outside world and in a sense, she is the reason to be alive. Max is most interested in life when he is able to hear Liesel’s stories such as her weather reports, for he associates her weather reports with the freedom that he lacks. Moreover, her descriptions of the weather are very childlike, such as cardboard clouds, which also brings joy to Max for he is able to see her innocence. His happiness stems from seeing Liesel for she makes him believe that he does not deserve his confinement that was created to avoid the Nazi Party. Thus, Max depends on Liesel to attain moments of freedom for she is his closest friend and family member who treats him as an equal. Finally, the loss of innocence occurs when Liesel realizes that the Nazi Party drafted her foster father into the Second World War. As she grieves over the loss of her father, she notices that “Rosa Hubermann was sitting on the edge of the bed with her husband’s accordion tied to her chest” and that “her fingers hovered above the keys. She did not move. She didn’t even appear to be breathing”. This quotation explains the family dynamic between Liesel and her foster parents. Rosa has known her husband longer than Liesel and yet, both of them experience the same emotions of fear and misery. They are united by their loss of Hans Hubermann for there is a chance that he may lose his life in the war. Furthermore, Rosa holds the accordion, an instrument that Hans is extremely capable of playing, symbolizing her love and need for Hans. As well at the start of the novel, Liesel relies on Hans’ accordion in order to help her sleep and rid of her nightmares. Thus, Liesel and Rosa are connected in this instance for the accordion reminds them of their love for Hans. Therefore, the loss of freedom and/or the loss of innocence allows Liesel to empathize with her loved ones for she understands their unpleasant circumstances. Ultimately, the hardships and suffering that Liesel and her family and friends endure allow them to strengthen their relationships and create deeper bonds. The novel devises immoral circumstances such as poverty and the losses of freedom and innocence as situations for the characters to grow and become united. In every scenario, there are always positive aspects and chances for growth. Instead of complaining about the negativity, it is about how the person makes the most out of it and how s/he adapts to it.
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