The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief Part 10: Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Liesel heads towards the mayor's house, hoping to steal something to cheer herself up. On the way she thinks of a quote from The Last Human Stranger about the earth as a stew, but Liesel thinks instead it should say "an ugly stew." She looks at the beautiful Amper River and thinks about the ugliness of humanity, and how it doesn't deserve such a river.
Liesel's sorrow leads her back to the library, both as a safe haven and a place to empower herself by stealing. She now sees, like Death, the incredible ugliness of humanity as opposed to natural, visual beauty like the river (or the sky).
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
Liesel climbs through the library window and sits on the floor. She thinks about all the horrors she has seen, and about Hitler, and she looks around at the beautiful books and hates them for making her happy. Overwhelmed by her sadness and anger, Liesel calls the books "lovely bastards" and starts ripping pages out and tearing them apart. She thinks about the words, and how they gave Hitler his power, and wonders what value they could have.
Hitler again becomes the face of evil, and Hitler achieved power through his words – so Liesel suddenly both hates the words for helping Hitler and wants the words to comfort her in her suffering. Her destruction of the books mirrors the book-burning, where the Nazis recognized the power of language even as they destroyed it.
Themes
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 come back. Liesel then bids farewell to the library by touching the titles of all the books, and she leaves.
At this point Liesel views words like Death views humans – infuriating in their inherent contradictions, capable of both great beauty and ugliness, both suffering and healing.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books 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, and gives her a little black notebook. Ilsa says that Liesel shouldn't punish herself like she did, but should perhaps try writing a book of her own. Liesel invites her in and they drink coffee together.
Liesel doesn't find any resolution to her anger and sadness until this moment. She finally apologizes to Ilsa, and now, once Ilsa gives Liesel her own notebook in which to write, Liesel has the chance to make the words her own. She can empower herself not by stealing someone else's books, but by writing her own.
Themes
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
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Death explains that Ilsa has given Liesel not just a book, but a reason to see that words can also be used for good. There will be pain but also happiness in words and in writing, just like life. That night Liesel goes down to the basement and starts to write her own life story. The title is The Book Thief: a small story by Liesel Meminger.
Just as Mein Kampf saved Max's life, The Book Thief will save Liesel's – but in two ways. Literally, it will keep her in the basement during the bombing, but metaphorically it offers her a reason to keep living, and a way to process her pain and heal herself and others.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon