Themes continued -The Nature of Humanity in The Book Thief; Goodness vs Evil; Man’s Inhumanity to Man
-Death refers to Liesel’s story “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.”
Some irony in that death, as inhuman, has seen so much cruelty and evil, that he is unsure of the essence of humanity. He becomes an objective figure,looking on, but despite his best intentions to look at the colours, is drawn into the lives of the “leftover humans”
-the conclusions reached at the end show the duality of human nature –Man is capable of both good and evil and that most people are a mixture
“The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be inb the right olace at the right time. The consequences of that is that I am 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.”
” I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race … I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and so brilliant…a last note from your narrator. I am haunted by humans.” He cannot escape their capacity for evil and it is as if their actions are subhuman and lacking in all compassion and feeling
Unlike much Holocaust literature, Zusak’s novel does not dwell on the evil Nazi perpetrators of evil and victims only but the ordinary Germans who have to choose their own individual response-humanity in the novel is seen in some unlikely people eg Rosa who “had a face decorated with constant fury. That was how the creases were made in the cardboard texture of her complexion.”
She took Liesel in and although “she possessed the unique ability to aggravate almost everyone she met…she did love Liesel. Her way of showing it just happened to be strange. It involved bashing her with wooden spoon and words, at various intervals.”
Death pays a moving tribute to her at her death. “She called everybody that. Saukerl.Saumansch. Especially the people she loved. Her elastic hair was out. It rubbed against the pillow and her wardrobe body had risen with the beating of her heart. Make no mistake, the woman had a heart,. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving. Remember,she was the woman with the instrument strapped to her body in the long, moon-slit night. She was the Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching.”
The essential humanity and goodness of Hans is also consistent . He is described as ‘barely visible….he had the ability to appear in the background even if he was standing at the front of a queue.”His eyes were made ‘of kindness and love”
Incurs the wrath of his son ‘You’re either for the Fuhrer or against him –and I can see that your’e against him. You always have been… How can a man stand by and do nothing as a whole nation clears out the garbage and makes itself great.” Note the dehumanizing way that groups of people are referred to. It is ironic that this led to Hans junior going “tragically” to Russia where Death, “carried souls across it, that sheet was splashed with blood, until it was full and bulging to the earth. In the evening it would be wrung out and bleached again, ready for the next dawn”
Survives “the extreme levels of discomfort. Anxiety, disbelief, paranoia” and graciously welcomes Max
At the parade of the Jews, “then one human. Hans Hubermann… held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic.”Interesting that Liesel mimics his action when she looks for Max in the second parade of Jews. She has the courage to make contact “Never had a heart been so definite and big in her adolescent heart.”…”Somewhere inside her were the souls of words” The effect of The Word Shaker is made explicit as she starts quoting it when she is walking along with Max. “There was once a small,strange man…but there was a word shaker too….is it from your cheek that I took the seed?” It is her defining moment when we see her courage, and the absorption of Max’s words and influence into her life. She is mature, rational and wholly human. This contrasts with the brutality and hatred of the soldier who whipped her and Max.
-his accordion is a symbol of his kindness, friendliness as he can entertain and cheer people up. It is also a symbol of him. After he has joined the army, Rosa sits “on the edge of her bed with her husband’s accordion tied to her chest. Her fingers hovered above the keys. She di d not move. She did not appear to be breathing.” Later whan Liesel is writing her book, she notes “Sometimes I think my Papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”
The conundrum of ordinary people wrestling with their conscience and the conflicting needs of their families is illustrated by Mr Steiner pp61-2. Although not disliking the Jews at all and disputing that they had to be driven out, he reasoned “his family. Surely he had to do whatever he could to support them. If that meant being in the party, it meant being in the party. Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his hear, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out.” This passivity and acquiescence is what allowed Hitler and his Nazi party to continue. People were too afraid and turned a blind eye to the violence and destruction around them.
The humanity of Liesel grows. On her birthday she embraces Max which is a priceless gift to him. “Only later would she find out about the helpless expression on Max Vanderburg’s face.”Her kindness is repaid in his book The Standover Man which reveals Liesel as a friend and companion.
She has a memorable lapse swearing and “using the brutality of words” to Ilsa Hermann He’s dead and it’s pathetic that you sit here shivering in your own house to suffer for it. Do you think you are the only one?”
He is described watching a Nazi parade as “a human-shaped block of wood, clapping slow and dutiful. And beautiful. Submission.”In the parade at Hitler’s birthday people become faceless and dehumanised “the crowd was itself. There was…no reasoning with it. You breathed with it and you sang its songs. You waited for its fire.” –mass has a unreasoning mob mentality.”You didn’t see people . Only uniforms and guns.” Shows how people can be part of a mass action and swayed along with it.
Narrator often uses third person pronouns to show the faceless, anonymous and feared authorities who are cruel Mr Steiner says to Rudy “They’ll take you away.”
Liesel realises it is “The Fuhrer. He was the they” that had taken away her mother
We as readers are encouraged to look at people with compassion and humanity “you will a find a small black room. In it sits a Jew. He is scum. He is starving. He is afraid. Please-try not to look away.”
We hear the words of Hitler in the descriptions of Max”The Jewish rat, back to his hole.” Realise that language debases. “
The fuhrer pounded away at the punching-bag Jew. Jewish blood was everywhere.” We also hear Hitler’s words as Max dreams about the boxing match. “He’s infesting you with his family”
Death describes the concentration camps which are the prime example of man’s inhumanity to man. “The sky was the colour of Jews” “I shiver when I remember as I try to de-realise it. I blow warm air into my hands, to heat them up. But it’s hard to keep them warm when the souls still shiver” …”IN complete desolation, I looked at the world above…even the clouds tried to look the other way.”
Also seen in the parades of Jews “like a catalogue of colours…they would greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke, and their souls trailing behind.”
“the suffering faces of depleted men and women reached across to them, pleading not so much for help –they were beyond that –but for an explanation.” Soldiers “had the Fuhrer in their eyes.”
“then one human. Hans Hubermann… held his hand out and presented a piece of bread., like magic.”
Man was whipped six times, Hans –four. “if nothing else, the old man would die like a human. Or at least with the thought that he was a human.” Later when he says to Liesel that he is an idiot, she replies “No Papa. You are just a man.”