The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief Part 1: Growing Up a Saumensch Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Death mentions a few details about characters and events that will come up later in the story, and he wonders when was the exact time that books and words became so important to Liesel. She will steal six books in her "career," and have four other important books given to her.
More foreshadowing and outlining of the story before it takes place. Death admits explicitly here that the power of words will be an important theme, though Liesel has not discovered it yet.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Liesel is undernourished and cold when she arrives at Himmel street. She has lived in cramped boardinghouses her whole life, and the only thing she can remember about her father is the word "Communist." Liesel wonders why her mother has left her behind. She knows that her mother is always sick and has no money, but being abandoned doesn't feel like salvation.
"Communist" is another important word that Death emphasizes. There is more dramatic irony here, as Liesel has no idea what has become of her parents, but based on historical knowledge of Hitler's and the Nazi's persecution of Communists implies that they have been arrested or killed.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon
Rosa Hubermann makes the biggest initial impact on Liesel because of her cursing. Rosa yells at Liesel (and Hans) for everything, and calls them saumensch or saukerl (filthy pig). At first Liesel refuses to bathe or get into bed, and Rosa keeps swearing at her.
Rosa's curse words will repeat throughout the story – they are first used as insults, but will later become signs of familiarity and even affection. More evidence of how the same words can be used for contradictory purposes.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon
Hans intervenes quietly and spends a long time teaching Liesel how to roll a cigarette, which puts her more at ease. Death gives a few facts about Hans: he is a house painter, plays the accordion, and has already survived World War I. To most people he doesn't seem noticeable or important, but Liesel sees that there is something special about him. He has kind, silvery eyes.
Hans again knows the right thing to do to put Liesel at ease. The accordion is introduced, which will become an important symbol. Liesel has a mature empathy and immediately sees the "importance" in Hans, but she cannot yet turn that wisdom towards herself.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
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Death then describes Rosa: she does washing and ironing for a few wealthy families, is a bad cook, and aggravates everyone. She loves Liesel but shows her love in strange, abusive ways. When Liesel finally takes a bath Rosa hugs her violently. She asks Liesel to call them Mama and Papa, but still curses whenever she speaks. Liesel already feels comfortable enough around Hans to think of him as "Papa."
Rosa becomes less threatening and more of a complex character, and her curses already seem less ominous. "Mama" and "Papa" are significant words, implying that Liesel must move on from her old family and start a new life.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon