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.
Stealing and Giving ThemeTracker
Stealing and Giving Quotes in The Book Thief
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.