The theme is depicted when Hans Hubermann teaches
The words in a story or book often possess a much deeper meaning, meanings that can develop powers and themes to bind different aspects of the literature. In Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, there are many words that symbolize power during unfortunate times. This power that the words possess helps bond the relations and friendships of different characters, and overall develops a theme of the importance of relationships and connection during unfortunate times, throughout the novel. This theme is depicted when Hans Hubermann teaches Liesel the alphabet, when Liesel reads stories to Max, and when Liesel reads stories to her fellow neighbours in a shelter.When Liesel arrives at the door of her new foster home, she is forced to live with an unknown family, in a new place. Along with the loss of her brother and the departure of her mother, she is very uncomfortable in the new environment. This is an unfortunate time for Liesel, and the power of certain significant words change her feelings about the situation. The change in her feelings is brought along when Hans Hubermann starts teaching Liesel the alphabet every night. The alphabet that Liesel learns has the power to instigate a bond between Liesel and her new stepfather, as well as develop an underlying theme of familial love and comfort throughout the novel. It is evident that Liesel is living through a depressing time in her life through the quotation,”Those first few months were definitely the hardest. Every night, Liesel would nightmare. Her brothers face, Staring at the floor…” (Zusak 36). Along with the quotation, “…and the best Liesel could do was speak the alphabet under her breath.” (39). It is stated that Liesel has dreams about her brother, which implies that she is constantly remembering his death. The word ‘nightmares’ implies the dreams are not positive, and in fact are actually unfortunate memories. Liesel then decides to recite the alphabet to escape the horrific memories of the past. The phrase “and the best Liesel could do” signifies that Liesel’s only source of positivity was reciting the alphabet, so she depended on it to pull through her hard time. The fact that Liesel is dependent on the alphabet to stay relieved of horror signifies that the alphabet was powerful enough to be her companion in times of darkness, thus establishing the power of the words. The power of the alphabet is then further established as it inspires a bond between Liesel and her new stepfather, Hans Hubermann. This bond is evident through the quotation, “Over the next few weeks and into summer, the midnight class began at the end of each nightmare. There were two more bed-wetting occurrences, but Hans Hubermann merely repeated his… task of reading, sketching, and reciting.” (69). In this quotation, the specific phrase “the midnight class began at the end of each nightmare”(69) is very significant of Hans Hubermann’s roll in Liesel’s life at the time. “The midnight class” refers to Hans Hubermann’s lessons to Liesel, teaching her the alphabet, and “each nightmare” refers to the nightmares Liesel got every night of her brother and mother. This implies that Liesel was still at a negative point in her life due to the recurring nightmares, however Liesel’s stepfather was there to aid her. He aided her by offering lessons of the alphabet, which Liesel depends on as previously noted. Hans Hubermann is continuously by her side and teaches her, which creates their first bond as father and daughter. Therefore, the power of the alphabet also bonded Liesel and Hans Hubermann through the lessons at night. The bond that the power of the words created between Liesel and her stepfather comforted Liesel in an estranged environment. Liesel finally felt at home with her new family, which is evident in the quotation, “…it didn’t really matter what the book was about. It was what it meant that was more important. The Books Meaning: 1. The last time she saw her brother. 2. The last time she saw her mother.” (38). In this quotation, there is a comparison between the two words ‘about’ and ‘meant’. The phrase “it doesn’t matter what the book was about”(38), shows that Liesel was not interested in the literal contents of the book – instead, she focuses on the meaning, which is the remembrance of her family. For Liesel, the book is therefore a source of comfort (brought by the connection to her original family), not entertainment. This signifies that the words in the books she reads have the power to bring familial spirit back into her life. It shows how words being more than writing on a page, and in fact being a powerful symbol conveying the theme of the importance of familial love throughout the novel. Overall, it is seen that there is power in the alphabet that Liesel learns, a power that bonds her to Hans Hubermann. As well, the power of the words develops a theme of love and comfort which is showered onto Liesel. Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man hiding from Nazi forces, takes refuge in the basement of the Hubermanns. Max is hiding to save his own life and is under constant pressure from Nazi forces. During this negative period in his life, Liesel reads stories to Max in the basement. The words in these stories form a bond between Liesel and Max, as well as further develop the theme of familial bonds in the novel. Firstly, the power of words in Max’s life is seen through the quotation, “…it was only two words he ever tasted. Mein Kampf. My Struggle-” (160). “Mein Kampf” is the book that Hitler wrote, and is owned by most Germans in the novel. Max has to carry this book around to protect himself when authorities question him, since owning the book signifies his false loyalty to the Nazis. This exemplifies that the words in the book possess power; enough power to defend Max and keep him alive in a risky environment. The power of words is then seen to bond Liesel and Max. When Max falls sick, Liesel continuously reads to him to try and keep him healthy, which is shown in the quotation, “… I’ll read to you… I’ll slap your face if you start dozing off. I’ll close the book and shake you till you wake up.'” (334). Further emphasized with, “They became good friends, and when the man was sick, the wordshaker allowed a single teardrop to fall on his face … (which) was made of friendship-a single word-and it dried and became a seed” (446). The first quotation shows that Liesel would never give up on having Max hear her stories. This can signify her trying to save him from his sickness. The stories she reads symbolise the cure for his illness. Therefore, the words in the stories Liesel reads to Max have power to potentially save Max from his sickness. The phrase, “I’ll slap your face if you start dozing off”(334), shows that Liesel would never give up on trying to save Max from his sickness, and in turn, Max is dependent on her stories to stay alive. This interdependency was originally triggered though the words of the book, and so the words therefore had power to create this bond between Max and Liesel. The second quotation shows that their original “teardrop”(446) of friendship started from “a single word”(446), which eventually “dried and became a seed”(446). This symbolises a word having power to start a friendship between Max and Liesel, and eventually also having the power to solidify that friendship into a strong bond. This power of words that created the strong bond, further advanced to continuing the development of the theme of familial love and bonds in the novel. The bond was created when Liesel’s stories comforted Max, who was continuously stressed about getting caught by Nazis and lived in constant fear. This is evident in the quotation, “even as the Fuhrer hammered at the trunk with an ax, (the word shaker) climbed until she reached the highest of the branches… afraid but stubborn, the word shaker remained… a hundred and ninety-six soldiers could not make any impact on the … tree.” (447). Technically, “The Fuhrer” refers to Hitler. In this case however, it also refers to his Nazi officers who look for Max in the basement. “The word shaker” represents Liesel who would go to any length to protect Max (who is represented as the tree). This shows how Liesel offers comfort to Max, when risk of Nazis is all around him. Since most of the interaction between Max and Liesel is done through the recitation of stories, it is arguable that it is the words that Liesel speaks which have the power to develop this ongoing theme, which impacts Max directly. In all, the power of words resulted in the bond of friendship between Max and Liesel, as well as the further development of the theme of important familial connections in the novel. When air raids begin in the town of Molching, all the neighbours are forced into shelters to stay protected. All the people in the shelters are fearing death and their lives are constantly at risk. Therefore, this is an evident unfortunate part of life in the lives of all the people in the shelters. In these shelters, Liesel reads her stories to all the other neighbours. During this dark time, the words in Liesel’s stories have power to bond all the scared victims to each other, as well as develop the recurring theme of familial love. It is first seen that the words Liesel speaks from her stories have power in the quotation, “‘And if there are more raids, keep reading in the shelter.’ … she opened the book, and again, the words found their way upon all those present in the shelter.” (442). The words in Liesel’s readings have the power to find “their way upon all those present in the shelter”(442). Then, the phrase, “and if there are more raids, keep reading in the shelter”(442), signifies that the words in Liesel’s stories are powerful enough to defy the oncoming attacks. This is the establishment of power in the words Liesel speaks. This established power in the words later creates bonds between all those present in the shelter, as seen in the quotation, “He payed direct attention to what Liesel was reading, and he tapped his brother and his sisters, telling them to do the same… By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel.” (381). Everyone in the shelter is paying attention to Liesel, which is the result of the power of the words finding its “way upon all those in the shelter” (442). This directed attention creates a bond between all the neighbours in the shelter and Liesel. The neighbours pay their attention to Liesel, and Liesel pays attention to her audience through the stories she reads. This exchange in attention is the creation of the bond brought upon by the power of words. The power of the words then bring comfort to all those present in the shelter, which is also the development of the theme. All the neighbours feel comfortable in the shelter with each other during an unfortunate period of air strikes and raids, due to the bond that the words of the stories created. This is observed in the quotation, “The youngest kids were soothed by her (Liesel’s) voice, and everyone else saw visions of the whistler running from the crime scene.” (381). It is clearly states that the people in the shelter “were soothed by her (Liesel’s) voice”(381), which indicates the presence of comfort in their environment. Therefore, the power of the words Liesel speaks also developed the theme of familial comfort in the novel, which is prominent in the setting of the shelter with all the assembled neighbours. Overall, the words in Liesel’s stories which were told to all the people in the shelter, possess power. That power then created bonds between all those present in the shelter and Liesel, as well as developed the theme of familial love in the novel. To conclude, it was evident multiple times in Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, that words were symbolic of power during unfortunate times. This power that words possess then develops familial bonds between characters in the novel. In The Book Thief, the alphabet lessons of Liesel from Hans Hubermann, the reading of stories by Liesel to Max, and the reading of stories by Liesel to her neighbours in the shelter, are all examples of the power of words bonding characters and conveying Zusak’s belief in the importance of familial bonds and relationships. It is the symbolic words in the novel which bring out the story’s true essence.