Literature Study GuidesThe Book ThiefPart 8 Chapters 5 8 Summary

The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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The Book Thief | Part 8, Chapters 5–8 : the word shaker | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5: The Collector

Alex Steiner is sent to Austria to mend damaged uniforms, a safe job, or as safe as any job during a war. Hans is assigned to an LSE unit, one of the most dangerous jobs on the home front, requiring men to stay above ground during air raids. The LSE unit responds to fires and cleans up dead bodies. Hans intentionally avoids writing much to Rosa or Liesel to keep them from worrying. But he himself can't help worrying, particularly when he finds the body of a dead boy and then hears a woman calling for her son, Rudy. Hans thinks of Liesel's friend Rudy, leading him to think about Rosa and Liesel, and he hopes for their safety.

Chapter 6: The Bread Eaters

Liesel worries about Hans, Mr. Steiner, and Max. More Jews are scheduled to march through town, and Rudy asks if she wants to come with him somewhere. While on the road, Rudy suggests putting out stale bread for the Jews to find. As the Jews pass by, Liesel moves closer to look for Max. Her movement draws the guards' attention, and one of the guards chases her off.

Chapter 7: The Hidden Sketchbook

Another air raid in Molching has residents in the shelter. Liesel reads again, just as Hans wanted. Once they are back home, Rosa gives her Max's last gift: The Word Shaker: A Small Collection of Thoughts for Liesel Meminger. The book recounts stories from Max's memory or things Liesel told him, as well as "The Word Shaker," a fairy tale or fable Max wrote for her.

In the story Max describes how Hitler found the power of words. Hitler plants the words for people to harvest. But a young girl, a "word shaker," makes friends with an enemy of the country. Their friendship creates a seed that grows into a tree. Hitler wants to chop it down, but the word shaker manages to save the tree until her friend comes back and joins her. They allow the tree to fall and use it to escape from the forest of Hitler's words.

Chapter 8: The Anarchist's Suit Collection

Rosa, Trudy, and Liesel celebrate Christmas with Rudy's family. Liesel suggests Rudy get a suit from his father's shop. When she teases him, he starts to chase her and trips. They almost kiss, but the moment passes and they begin talking about Rudy's father and Max.

Analysis

Neither Hans Hubermann nor Alex Steiner is particularly heroic in the army, though Hans is clearly in danger, and both miss their families. Hans is certainly relieved about not being sent to Russia.

A romance may be growing between Rudy and Liesel, but their friendship is still paramount. Rudy seems more and more like Liesel's beloved papa, Hans. Even though he is starving, Rudy suggests leaving bread for the Jews who will be marched through town. Is it a gesture to impress Liesel? A sign of solidarity with Hans? Simple generosity for the poor sufferers on their way to Dachau? Rudy, like Hans, is good. As Death points out, humans have the capacity for great good and great evil. Rudy and Hans are good, but the reader already knows Rudy's fate. Goodness does not guarantee survival.

Max has asked Rosa to save The Word Shaker until Liesel is ready for it. But Rosa says maybe Liesel always has been ready. The Word Shaker is complex, very different from The Standover Man. Zusak focuses on the title story, which is "a fable or a fairy tale. Liesel was not sure which." Max's note says, "I thought you might be too old for such a tale, but maybe no one is."

From a literary perspective, a fairy tale is a perfect vehicle to tackle some of the more frightening topics of Nazism. When Liesel looked at some of Max's earlier drawings about Nazism, she was frightened. Now Max uses a fairy tale to explore similar ideas. Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment, suggests children use fairy tales to make sense of the world around them. Bettelheim believes when adults tell fairy tales to children, they are conveying information about how life works: ideas about right and wrong, about obedience or disobedience. The Word Shaker works on these levels as well.

Furthermore, it makes a statement about the power of words. The Nazis infamously used oblique language and commonplace terms to discuss some of their most horrific crimes: the "Jewish problem," the "final solution," and "special treatment" of Jews. In Max's fairy tale, the Hitler character plants seeds and "farms" words and thoughts, as the real Hitler laid the propagandistic groundwork for his persecution of the Jews for years before the first concentration camps opened. Max shows Liesel her own power, how she can claim words and use them to escape from the insanity of Nazism.

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