The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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Stealing and Giving Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Book Thief, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon

In the setting of Nazi Germany, the idea of criminality is turned upside down – Hitler's laws require citizens to commit crimes against humanity, and when Liesel or Hans show kindness to Max (or any other Jew) they are harshly punished. The thievery of the novel's title also seems like less of a crime in the context of the story. When Liesel and Rudy steal books and food it is a small way of defying Hitler, empowering themselves, and building their identities. This is particularly true for Liesel, as the books she steals help form her own story, but for both children stealing becomes a way of taking some control over a world gone mad.

Rudy has his own unique relationship with stealing and giving. He wants to be a thief, and stealing things cheers him up when something bad has happened, but he ends up being better at leaving things behind. At first it is Liesel's shoes, but then he purposefully leaves the teddy bear for the dying pilot and bread for the starving Jews. Ilsa Hermann's books also symbolize the complicated nature of this theme. First she offers Liesel her books, but then when Liesel gets angry that Ilsa fired her mother, Liesel steals the same books she was offered before. She keeps stealing books until she realizes that Ilsa is actually giving them to her by letting Liesel steal them. Traditional ideas of property are useless in such a setting, and the characters must act according to their own moral compass.

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Stealing and Giving ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Stealing and Giving appears in each chapter of The Book Thief. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Stealing and Giving Quotes in The Book Thief

Below you will find the important quotes in The Book Thief related to the theme of Stealing and Giving.
Part 1: Growing Up a Saumensch Quotes

All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.
When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger, Max Vandenburg
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Death continues to narrate the story, foreshadowing many of the key events in the novel. The protagonist, Liesel, is a lover of books and words in general, and has come to find language a matter of life and death-iwords mean "everything" to her.

The story we're about to hear, Death suggests, isn't just about the life of Liesel. It's also about how Liesel comes to recognize that books and words are central to her existence. Furthermore, the passage complicates the question of who, exactly, is telling this story. Death seems to be the narrator, but here it's suggested that Liesel ends up writing her own story--has she assumed the guise of death in order to tell the story of her own life?

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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.

Part 5: The Whistler and the Shoes Quotes

He laughed. "Good night, book thief."
It was the first time Liesel had been branded with her title, and she couldn't hide the fact that she liked it very much. As we're both aware, she'd stolen books previously, but in late October 1941, it became official. That night, Liesel Meminger truly became the book thief.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Rudy Steiner (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Rudy is by now well aware that Liesel steals books form Ilsa's library. He seems to understand that Liesel steals these books because of her love for literature, and because she wants to prove to herself that she's adult enough to take matters into her own hands, whether or not Ilsa Hermann allows her in the library.

The passage is interesting because it suggests that words become most "real" when two people share them. Ilsa had already stolen several books, but strangely, it's not until Rudy gives her the title "Book Thief" that she begins to think of herself as one.

Part 7: The Long Walk to Dachau Quotes

Just give him five more minutes and he would surely fall into the German gutter and die. They would all let him, and they would all watch.

Then, one human.
Hans Hubermann…
The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Hans Hubermann
Page Number: 393
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hans sees a huge group of Jews being led off to their deaths in concentration camps. Hans is amazed that the other Germans watching the horrific spectacle don't do anything to comfort or console the Jews. Almost without realizing it, Hans offers an elderly Jewish man some bread.

What does Han's action accomplish? It doesn't save the Jewish man--he's whipped brutally and then, presumably, sent back to the camp (and Hans himself is whipped as well). And yet Hans's generosity reminds the Jewish man that he's not an animal, but a human being. In this way, Hans's actions are enormously valuable: they undermine the program of the Holocaust by treating Jews like ordinary people, not the hideous scapegoats Hitler wanted them to be.