The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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Ilsa Hermann Character Analysis

The mayor's wife in the town where the Hubermanns live and one of Rosa's washing customers, Ilsa subjects herself to cold weather as a punishment for living when her son has died (even though his death was no fault of her own). She introduces Liesel to her library, and both gives Liesel books and allows Liesel to steal them from her. Ilsa starts out hardly able to speak, but by the novel's end she encourages Liesel to write and then takes her in after the bombing.

Ilsa Hermann Quotes in The Book Thief

The The Book Thief quotes below are all either spoken by Ilsa Hermann or refer to Ilsa Hermann. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Alfred A. Knopf edition of The Book Thief published in 2007.
Part 5: The Gambler (A Seven-Sided Die) Quotes

Liesel, however, did not buckle. She sprayed her words directly into the woman's eyes.
"You and your husband. Sitting up here." Now she became spiteful. More spiteful and evil than she thought herself capable.
The injury of words.
Yes, the brutality of words.

Related Characters: Liesel Meminger (speaker), Death (speaker), Ilsa Hermann
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

Things have gotten rough for Liesel's family. They run a laundry service, but in the hardships of the war, most of their customers have abandoned them. Now, the family's final customer, the Hermann family, has canceled as well: Liesel's family has no source of income left. Liesel's sudden spitefulness here seems somewhat unjustified, as Ilsa continues to treat Liesel kindly and invites her to keep visiting her library, and even gives her another book--but Liesel is overcome with anger when she compares the Mayor's circumstances to her own.

The scene reminds us that words are by no means a tool for good--on the contrary, one can use words for all sorts of purposes, good and bad (as we've often been reminded through the symbol of Mein Kampf). Liesel allows her emotions to run away with her here, using her words to criticize Ilsa and hurt Ilsa deeply.

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Ilsa Hermann Character Timeline in The Book Thief

The timeline below shows where the character Ilsa Hermann appears in The Book Thief. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: The Town Walker
Death Theme Icon
...enjoy the work, and starts to notice the quirks of the customers. Most noticeable is Frau Hermann , the mayor's wife, who lives in a cold house and never says a word. (full context)
Part 3: The Mayor's Library
Death Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...accompanies Liesel, confused at her hesitation. Finally she knocks, dreading what is to come, but Frau Hermann appears and silently pays her, as if nothing had changed. Liesel is relieved, and thinks... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
The next time Liesel goes without Rudy, though, and Frau Hermann makes her wait. Then she returns with a stack of books, and Liesel is suddenly... (full context)
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Liesel takes the washing and leaves, but then feels guilty and rude for not thanking Frau Hermann . She returns and the mayor answers the door, terrifying Liesel, but then Frau Hermann... (full context)
Part 3: The Attributes of Summer
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
...mayor's library Liesel gets to sit on the floor and read whatever she wants, while Frau Hermann sits silently by the cold window. (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
...her son, who died during World War I. Death reveals that since her son died, Ilsa Hermann has made herself suffer by enduring the weather at all times, which is why... (full context)
Part 5: The Gambler (A Seven-Sided Die)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Later Liesel is in the mayor's library and she imagines confessing to Ilsa Hermann that there is a Jew in her basement. Ilsa offers her The Whistler again... (full context)
Books Theme Icon
...people to prepare for hard times. The next time Liesel is in the mayor's library, Ilsa Hermann is especially insistent that she take The Whistler, which Liesel finally accepts. Then Ilsa... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
...She starts to walk home, but then turns around and bangs on the mayor's door. Ilsa answers and Liesel yells at her, spitefully bringing up Ilsa's dead son and the mayor's... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
When she gets home Liesel feels guilty and pretends that Frau Hermann fired her because she insulted her, but Rosa doesn't believe her. Liesel then goes downstairs... (full context)
Part 5: The Whistler and the Shoes
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...Liesel secretly just wants The Whistler. Stealing it feels more like earning it than having Frau Hermann give it to her out of pity. Liesel decides she will go in alone, and... (full context)
Part 6: Fresh Air, an Old Nightmare, and what to do with a Jewish Corpse
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...the mayor's house. They ride their bikes around the block a few times, waiting for Ilsa Hermann to leave the kitchen. Rudy finally decides to give up (he is only interested... (full context)
Part 7: The Trilogy
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...Rudy ride away on their bikes. Liesel can't help looking back, though, and she sees Ilsa Hermann standing in the window. Ilsa waves and Liesel waves back. (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...at the bridge and open the book, and inside is a note for Liesel from Ilsa. It says that Ilsa knows Liesel has been stealing her books, and she is welcome... (full context)
Part 9: The Next Temptation
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...a book called The Last Human Stranger, but as she is climbing out the window Ilsa Hermann appears wearing a bathrobe with a swastika on it. Liesel suddenly realizes that the... (full context)
Part 9: The Ageless Brother
Death Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
Liesel returns the cookie plate to Ilsa Hermann's front door, but she doesn't go inside. She imagines her brother, who is eternally... (full context)
Part 10: Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
After her outburst Liesel feels guilty, and she writes Frau Hermann an apologetic note mentioning that she "wanted to kill the words" and saying she won't... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
Three days later Ilsa Hermann shows up at the Hubermanns' door. She tells Liesel that she can write well,... (full context)
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
Death explains that Ilsa has given Liesel not just a book, but a reason to see that words can... (full context)
Epilogue: Wood in the Afternoon
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
...later the mayor gets her in a car, and Liesel sits in the back with Frau Hermann . At the mayor's house, Liesel talks to herself often and eats little. She refuses... (full context)