The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief Part 1: The Heavyweight Champion of the School-Yard Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the fall of 1939, World War II begins with the German invasion of Poland. Hans picks up a newspaper with the announcement and slips it under his shirt. By the end of the day the letters are tattooed against the skin by his sweat. Hans doesn't feel very patriotic about the announcement though.
More words taking physical form here. The outside world begins to encroach on Himmel Street now, and World War II is set in motion. Again the reader knows more of what is coming than the characters.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Soon afterward Liesel starts school again. She is moved up to her proper age level, but she is still bad at reading and gets quite a few watschens ("good hidings") for misbehavior. She gets farther along in The Grave Digger's Handbook and thinks she is learning well with Hans.
Liesel is still a troubled girl at this point, dealing with the loss of her family and her own lack of education. Her own inability to read again holds her back and makes her angry.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon
One day in November there is a reading test at school where all the students have to get up, one at a time, and read something out loud. The teacher, Sister Maria, tries to excuse Liesel from the test but Liesel insists that she wants to read. She gets up and opens the book, but she blanks on the words. Feeling useless and at the verge of tears, she starts quoting from The Grave Digger's Handbook. Sister Maria stops her and takes her into the hall for a watschen, while all the other children except Rudy laugh.
Zusak avoids an easy, clean-cut story of redemption through language by including frustrating setbacks like this. Liesel cannot help associating her failure at reading with the other tragedies of her life. As Max will point out later, the fact that she knows how powerless a person can be without words will make her appreciate them all the more later.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
During their break a boy named Ludwig Schmeikl taunts Liesel and calls her an idiot. Liesel snaps and starts beating him up and cursing him with Rosa's curses. Then she turns to a boy named Tommy Müller and starts beating him up too just because he was smiling. Finally Liesel stops and declares, "I'm not stupid." When they go back inside she gets a huge watschen from Sister Maria, but no one laughs.
At first Liesel is an angry outsider at school. She is clearly still repressing her grief for her brother, as her nightmares continue and her anger here injures even innocent bystanders like Tommy. Rosa's curses return as forms of abuse once more.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
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On the way home with Rudy, Liesel is suddenly struck by despair and she crouches in a gutter, crying for her dead brother, her lost mother, and her own failure at reading. Rudy stays with her, even when it starts to rain. Finally they walk home.
Even before the war starts, Liesel's world is bleak and full of random suffering. It is people who don't leave her (Hans and Rudy), and later books and stealing, that will give her a little control.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon