Literature Study GuidesThe Book ThiefPart 2 Chapters 5 8 Summary

The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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The Book Thief | Part 2, Chapters 5–8 : the shoulder shrug | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: Hitler's Birthday, 1940

On Hitler's birthday Hans seems uneasy. He argues with his son, who has come home for the celebration. Definitely not a Nazi, Hans has used his trade to paint over slurs written on Jewish homes. Of the opposite persuasion, Hans Junior, the Nazi, calls his father a coward and storms out of the house. Hans is upset, but he sends Liesel to the book-burning celebration.

Chapter 6: 100 Percent Pure German Sweat

At the book burning Liesel is curious, even though she treasures her own books. As she listens to the speaker, she hears the books are written by authors deemed bad, including Jews and Communists. Liesel puts it all together: her family is gone because they are Communists. She feels ill and has to escape from the crowd. On the edge of the crowd she finds Ludwig Schmeikl injured by the stampeding throngs. She helps him to a safe place where both apologize for fighting.

Chapter 7: The Gates of Thievery

After the book burning Liesel asks Hans some hard questions about her mother. Hans is forced to admit that Liesel's mother may have been taken away by the Nazis, and Liesel says she hates the Führer. Death tells readers that Hans wants to hug Liesel and tell her he's sorry. Instead Hans slaps her in the face and tells her never to say anything like that again. Then they practice the "Heil Hitler" salute as men clean up the bonfire.

Chapter 8: Book of Fire

While Hans is distracted, Liesel steals an unburned book from the remains of the bonfire. As she moves away with the book, she is almost caught by the workers. She hides the book under her clothes and starts to leave. Then she realizes the mayor's wife is watching her from the shadows and has seen everything.

Analysis

The argument between Hans and his son represents similar arguments that most likely took place in German households at the time: not so much about ideology but about the merits of joining the Nazi Party. Zusak also uses the argument as a way to characterize Hans, who has acquired something of a bad reputation among Nazis because he has been kind to Jews by painting over the slurs and insults with which Nazis have been defacing Jewish homes and businesses. When his son calls him a coward, Hans acknowledges to himself he was afraid to die in World War I. The narrator says Hans's silver eyes "corroded" as his son criticizes him; the image of metal slowly eaten away or damaged fits Hans's reaction to his son's insults. Hans Junior never reappears in the book, but Death informs readers of his ending up in Stalingrad, one of the worst battles of World War II. Thus political arguments and the question of expediency begin to surface.

For a book lover Liesel is surprisingly undisturbed by the book burning. Death attributes this seeming lack of response to some innate quality in human beings; it may simply be a child getting swept up by the crowd. Or it may be that she knows nothing else, having lived with and been taught Nazi propaganda for years and seeing it all around her. Liesel doesn't think twice when the Jews are labeled an enemy. It's possible she has never met anyone Jewish, and therefore the idea of "the Jew" as an alien enemy does not trouble her. Communist, however, is a word that represents her family, so as she puts the pieces together, she reacts strongly. Liesel's rescue of Ludwig Schmeikl offers a brief respite from the overwhelming scene of the book burning where Ludwig has been physically wounded and Liesel emotionally wounded.

As Liesel's sensibilities become heightened and her anger increases, Hans needs to keep her from danger. To do this Hans strikes Liesel, giving readers quite a shock. Zusak provides insight into Hans's thoughts and connects the scene to Herr Steiner's earlier lecture to Rudy after the Jesse Owens incident: a parent trying to keep his child safe during frightening and unpredictable times, teaching that child to blend in and not cause problems. And yet immediately after this conversation Liesel steals a book, showing her rebelliousness and personal courage as well as the pull of words, forbidden words that burn into her flesh.

Liesel is frightened that Frau Hermann, the mayor's wife, saw her steal the book. As a Nazi official, the mayor is of course present at the book burning in his Nazi uniform, and almost catches Liesel with the book in her hands. Whether his wife is equally fervent in her beliefs is unknown at this point, yet Liesel's act of thievery will have consequences she cannot possibly anticipate.

Very little is known about the stolen book—The Shoulder Shrug—at the end of Chapter 8. Once again colors come into play, this time the colors of the book cover, which is red and blue and partly damaged by the fire. As with The Grave Digger's Handbook, its significance is not only in its content but in how it comes to be in Liesel's hands. Liesel's love of books and her hatred for Hitler come together and she does something really dangerous, arguably the most dangerous thing she has done so far. If she were caught, she—or Hans and Rosa—could have been in serious trouble, and Hans cannot afford another mark against him now. But Liesel isn't thinking of that. She thinks only of the book.

Noticeable, too, is that the narration becomes smoother as Liesel becomes more fluent with language. While Death narrates the story, it feels as though Liesel herself is contributing to it, having gained some power of words. In stating her opinion of Hitler, Hans sees the danger of her growing ability to articulate her ideas and must teach her to suppress her thoughts and emotions in that subject.

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