The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Words and Language 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.
Words and Language Theme Icon

Markus Zusak constantly reminds the reader of the importance of language through his writing style. The disjointed narration, postmodern style (the starred, bold-faced interjections), and poetic phrasing emphasize the words used to tell the story, to the point that the reader is never allowed to sink unconsciously into the plot. There are also many reminders of language within the novel's action – Liesel and Hans write on the back of sandpaper, the newspaper becomes imprinted against Hans's skin, and Liesel, Hans, and Max paint words in the basement. In the end Zusak gives language itself (like Death) as much physicality and agency as any character.

Like many novels about oppressive regimes, much of the story's evil comes in the form of propaganda and the suppression of free language, like the book burnings of the Nazis. Max Vandenburg's story The Word Shaker condenses Zusak's ideas about the power of words – in the story Hitler is someone who uses language for evil purposes, while Liesel, who loves language purely, is able to resist Hitler through reading and writing her own words. With them she creates a shelter for herself and Max to protect them from the cruel world. The last lines of Liesel's own book (The Book Thief) sum it up – "I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right." She must take the language of the Führer and turn it to good.

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Words and Language ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Book Thief related to the theme of Words and Language.
Prologue: The Flag Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 14-15
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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Part 1: The Other Side of Sandpaper Quotes

As for the girl, there was a sudden desire to read it that she didn't even attempt to understand. On some level, perhaps she wanted to make sure her brother was buried right. Whatever the reason, her hunger to read that book was as intense as any ten-year-old human could experience.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 66
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Part 1: The Smell of Friendship Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger, Hans Hubermann
Page Number: 72
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Part 1: The Heavyweight Champion of the School-Yard Quotes

The day of the announcement, Papa was lucky enough to have some work. On his way home, he picked up a discarded newspaper… and slipped it beneath his shirt. By the time he made it home and removed it, his sweat had drawn the ink onto his skin. The paper landed on the table, but the news was stapled to his chest. A tattoo…
"What does it say?" Liesel asked him…
"'Hitler takes Poland,'" he answered, and Hans Hubermann slumped into a chair.

Related Characters: Liesel Meminger (speaker), Death (speaker), Hans Hubermann (speaker)
Page Number: 74
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Part 2: 100 Percent Pure German Sweat Quotes

Although something inside told her that this was a crime – after all, her three books were the most precious items she owned – she was compelled to see the thing lit. She couldn't help it. I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 109
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Part 3: The Struggler, Continued Quotes

For most of the journey, he made his way through the book, trying never to look up.
The words lolled about in his mouth as he read them.
Strangely, as he turned the pages and progressed through the chapters, it was only two words he ever tasted.
Mein Kampf. My struggle –
The title, over and over again, as the train prattled on, from one German town to the next.
Mein Kampf.
Of all the things to save him.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Max Vandenburg
Related Symbols: Mein Kampf
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 4: Pages from the Basement Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Max Vandenburg
Related Symbols: Mein Kampf
Page Number: 223
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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:
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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:
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Part 6: Death's Diary: The Parisians Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Death (speaker)
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 7: The Sky Stealer Quotes

She didn't dare look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out. A voice played the notes inside her. This, it said, is your accordion.
The sound of the turning page carved them in half.
Liesel read on.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Related Symbols: The Accordion
Page Number: 381
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 8: The Hidden Sketchbook Quotes

Yes, the Führer decided that he would rule the world with words. "I will never fire a gun," he devised. "I will not have to."

Related Characters: Death (speaker)
Page Number: 445
Explanation and Analysis:
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The best word shakers were the ones who understood the true power of words. They were the ones who could climb the highest. One such word shaker was a small, skinny girl. She was renowned as the best word shaker of her region because she knew how powerless a person could be WITHOUT words.
That's why she could climb higher than anyone else. She had desire. She was hungry for them.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 446
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 9: The Snows of Stalingrad Quotes

The brother shivers.
The woman weeps.
And the girl goes on reading, for that's why she's there, and it feels good to be good for something in the aftermath of the snows of Stalingrad.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Frau Holtzapfel, Michael Holtzapfel
Page Number: 471
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 10: Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Liesel Meminger (speaker), Death (speaker)
Page Number: 519
Explanation and Analysis:
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She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.
Then a chapter.
Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing…
What good were the words?

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 521
Explanation and Analysis:
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Epilogue: The Handover Man Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger
Page Number: 550
Explanation and Analysis:
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