When he takes a soul, Death remembers the color of the sky to distract himself from his grim work. He begins the story with the colors of his three meetings with Liesel, the book thief – white, black, and red – and combines these to form the Nazi flag, which hangs over the story like the colors of the sky. Later Liesel acts similarly to Death in describing the sky to Max when he is trapped inside.
Death sees the full spectrum of colors in the sky, which he connects to beauty and ugliness, and the extremes of humanity. He cannot decide if mankind is truly good or evil, beautiful or ugly, and in the end he finally accepts that it can be both at once. The book Mein Kampf represents this self-contradictory nature. It is a book of ultimate hatred and ugliness, but Max paints over it and makes a beautiful story about his friendship with Liesel. By the novel's end Liesel begins to see the spectrum of humanity as well, just as she so uniquely described to sky the Max. When Death finally takes her in her old age, he wants to explain the beauty and ugliness of people to Liesel, but then he realizes that she already knows.
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness ThemeTracker
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Quotes in The Book Thief
Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt – an immense leap of an attempt – to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.
Papa would say a word and the girl would have to spell it aloud and then paint it on the wall, as long as she got it right. After a month, the wall was recoated. A fresh cement page.
Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.
With the rest of them, he stood around the bed and watched the man die – a safe merge, from life to death. The light in the window was gray and orange…
"When death captures me," the boy vowed, "he will feel my fist on his face."
During that week, Max had cut out a collection of pages from Mein Kampf and painted over them in white… When they were all dry, the hard part began… he formulated the words in his head till he could recount them without error. Only then, on the paper that had bubbled and humped under the stress of drying paint, did he begin to write the story.
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.
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words… I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain. Even the clouds were trying to get away.
Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.
They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.
The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.
The sun stirs the earth. Around and around, it stirs us, like stew…
On Munich Street, she remembered the events of the previous week there. She saw the Jews coming down the road, their streams and numbers and pain. She decided there was a word missing from her quote.
The world is an ugly stew, she thought.
It's so ugly I can't stand it.
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.