Book Thief Themes, Symbols and Motifs
Updated: 3/24/2021
Book Thief Themes, Symbols and Motifs
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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Teacher Guide by Liane Hicks

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is an award winning historical fiction novel written in 2005. The story centers on the life of Liesel Meminger, a young German orphan raised by foster parents during the rise of Hitler and the beginning of World War II. Liesel's foster parents hide a young Jewish man named Max to save him from the Nazis and Liesel and Max strike up an unlikely friendship. The author chooses Death to be the narrator, as he is able to convey the scope of suffering of the Holocaust as well as describe the emotional story of Liesel and Max's journey.

The Book Thief

Storyboard Description

There are many themes, symbols and motifs present throughout the novel The Book Thief. Students can explore themes, symbols and motifs in a novel by identifying 3-5 and creating a spider map of images and captions depicting examples from the text.

Storyboard Text

  • The novel sheds light on different sides of Nazi Germany. There are characters like Frau Diller and Franz Deutscher who are blindly loyal, bigoted, and oblivious to or take pleasure in suffering. On the other hand, there are people who hate the regime and actively fight against it.
  • Suffering and Death are central themes as Death tells the reader about the millions who suffer and die in WWII. He conveys the depths of Liesel's sadness at her traumatic losses while also giving the reader an understanding of WWII and the Holocaust.
  • Papa's kindness and patience with Liesel and her adoration in return; the loyalty and consistency of Rosa; the deep understanding between Liesel and Max; the infatuation and friendship between Rudy and Liesel. Even Death is a very sympathetic character saying "Even death has a heart."
  • "But, I've heard what happens there."
  • The Nazis use words as propaganda and feared words that could refute their false, bigoted ideologies. They burned books and suppressed free speech. Liesel is enchanted with words and steals books to learn, express herself, and cope. Max uses words to communicate through writing his stories and talking about their dreams.
  • The dominos symbolize the fact that one event could set others in motion without realizing it. Rudy's father saves Rudy from military service by taking his place. In doing so, Rudy is left behind with the family when the neighborhood is bombed and Rudy's father is the only survivor.
  • The accordion symbolizes the joy, kindness, and friendship Papa conveys when he plays it. It represents an exuberance for life and is woven into how Papa's life was saved by Max's father and in turn. why Max is saved by the Hubermanns.