The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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The Book Thief | Character Analysis



Death functions as a first-person and third-person narrator, expressing his opinions about characters and events and narrating the events in Liesel's life. Rather than a grim reaper Death is portrayed as a regular guy who has a job like anyone else. He seems less a decision maker than a high-level functionary working alone. Doing his job causes him to feel human emotions: sadness when he has to take souls not yet ready for him and respect and tenderness for deserving souls. For Death, war signifies an increased workload, and he notes in his diary that he is weary and needs a vacation.

Liesel Meminger

Liesel loses her brother and birth mother at the start of the book and seems defensive at first. But she builds a new family with Hans and Rosa Hubermann who treat her kindly. New friends and neighbors also treat her well, and she grows intellectually and emotionally during the years she spends among them. Liesel is motivated by the power of words. At first she knows only spoken language. Learning to read opens the world of ideas to her; writing her own story expands it. Despite recurring and disturbing nightmares, she is strong, resilient, smart, trustworthy, and loyal, as she keeps the secret of Max's presence. She is feisty enough to fight with a classmate who makes fun of her but later has the compassion to help him when he is hurt.

Hans Hubermann

A tall, thin man with silver eyes, Hans is a World War I veteran whose life was saved by a Jewish friend. Because of his refusal to hate and persecute Jews and because he may lean toward Communist ideology, he avoids joining the Nazi Party even though he knows membership would improve his business. Repelled by Nazi propaganda, he is a gentle, encouraging, and compassionate father figure for Liesel. Hans's courage is apparent not as a fighter, but as one who defies the Nazis in a more subversive way, by painting over defaced Jewish buildings and even more by living with the danger of hiding Max. Hans seems to pick his battles; his loyalty to his friend and sense of justice win out over concerns for his own safety.

Max Vandenburg

Max is the son of Hans's friend who taught him to play the accordion and who saved his life during World War I. When the Nazi persecution of the Jews begins, Max's non-Jewish friend hides him and helps him get to the Hubermanns'. Max is active and scrappy, so hiding in a basement, unable to go outside is difficult to bear. He feels a great deal of guilt for putting the Hubermanns in danger and for having to share their food. The two books he writes for Liesel open new worlds for her as he reveals himself and what is happening in the world.

Rudy Steiner

The Steiners live next door to the Hubermanns. Rudy, one of the family's six children, looks like the ideal Nazi boy, but he is kindhearted, self-contained, and idolizes the African American track star Jesse Owens, to the chagrin of his Nazi compatriots. His self-confidence, individuality, and athleticism allow him to befriend Liesel, and the two forge a deep bond. He is actively anti-Nazi, at first because the ideology repels him and later as local bullies gain power and his father is drafted into the army as punishment.

Rosa Hubermann

Rosa is short and plump, with a waddling walk and a face that looks like cardboard. She yells and swears at people, but she is "a good woman for a crisis." To bring in some extra and much-needed money she does laundry for wealthier families. Rosa cares for Liesel, even when she is hard on her, and she loves her husband. She also helps hide Max in their cellar, sharing their limited food and space with him.

The Mayor's Wife

The mayor's wife—also referred to as Frau Ilsa Hermann—lost her only son in World War I and has been in mourning ever since. She sees Liesel steal a book from the bonfire and decides to help her, opening up her extensive library for Liesel to use, and turning a blind eye when Liesel, angry about losing Frau Hermann as a laundry customer, steals books from her library. Later, after Himmel Street is bombed, she shows her kindness again by inviting Liesel to live with her and her husband and encouraging Liesel's writing.

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