The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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The Book Thief | Part 4, Chapters 1–4 : the standover man | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Accordionist (The Secret Life of Hans Hubermann)

Max's appearance at the Hubermanns' house leads Death to explain how he got there. Hans survived World War I because of his friendship with a German Jewish man named Erik Vandenburg, who also taught Hans to play the accordion. One day Vandenburg recommended Hans for a paperwork task while the others went out to fight. Hans stayed back and did paperwork while the others, including Vandenburg, were killed in the battle. After the war Hans promised Vandenburg's widow to help their family in any way.

Hans has tried to avoid joining the Nazi Party, but he loses business because of his decision. Eventually he submits an application. When a Jewish customer has insults painted on his door, Hans paints over the slurs. As a result his application is ignored. He is treated with suspicion, but not arrested. Then Walter, Max's friend, shows up and asks Hans if he will help Max.

Chapter 2: A Good Girl

When Max appears at the Hubermanns' in November 1940, Hans is alone in the kitchen and welcomes him. Liesel wakes up, but Hans sends her back to bed, reassuring Max she is "a good girl." Liesel lies in bed and wonders what is happening. Max and Hans wait for Rosa to come home.

Chapter 3: A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter

An amateur boxer, Max and his mother lived in his uncle's home, where Max often tussled with his cousins. As he grew older, he continued using his fists and welcomed challenges. After fighting Walter Kugler several times, they became friends. Max suffers as anti-Jewish discrimination increases, and Walter helps Max escape. Forced to leave his family behind, Max feels guilty. His mother gives him Hans Hubermann's name just in case.

Chapter 4: The Wrath of Rosa

Rosa is shocked to find a Jewish man in their home, but she feeds him. Max eats her food, but he gets sick because he hasn't eaten in so long. Rosa doesn't argue or criticize; she just cleans up after him. Liesel watches from the shadows and wonders about this new side of her foster parents.

Analysis

These chapters celebrate two very different Jewish/non-Jewish friendships: Erik Vandenburg with Hans and Max Vandenburg with Walter. During World War I such friendships were frequent and unremarkable, both among soldiers and the general population. Under the Nazis, however, such friendships were suspect and eventually forbidden. Erik and Hans are described as mild-mannered, soft-spoken men, and their friendship is based on a love of music. Max and Walter's friendship is based on their shared enthusiasm for boxing. Both friendships, however, become a matter of life and death.

Interestingly, the accordion is a symbolic representation of Hans, or more accurately the bond between Hans and Erik; Erik taught Hans to play it, and in doing so he gave Hans a defining part of his identity. With laws forbidding intermingling among and intermarriage between Jews and Christians, the accordion and its music represent a bond that defies the Nazis. Readers may not be surprised that Hans helps a Jew, especially the son of a close friend who saved his life, hide from the Nazis. However, Rosa seems less likely to make such a gesture; therefore, her response is unexpected in its docility, not a word that would describe Rosa until now.

In these chapters Liesel functions as an observer, not actively involved in the unfolding events and beginning to see her foster parents in a new light. Typically a writer has the main character participate at significant plot points, but Liesel's separation from this situation reinforces the fact that she is, after all, a child. No one has told her exactly what has happened to her parents or to Max; in spite of the difficulties of her life, she has been sheltered to some extent. This is a time for the adults to step in, and Hans and Rosa do.

Max's situation reflects the escalating Nazi action against Jews. In 1938 Kristallnacht caused catastrophic damage to Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses—not to mention Jewish lives—as Nazi paramilitary forces wrought havoc throughout the night. The situation was clear. Max's later guilt at leaving his family is not about leaving them while he goes off to seek a better life; he fears, with just cause, they will be killed by the Nazis, as danger, persecution, and lawlessness become more widespread.

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