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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Five

Part Four

Part Six

Summary

The section opens with Death announcing that Rudy will die in less than two years but not explaining how. The action switches back to Himmel Street, where Liesel assists in cutting Max’s hair. She then goes to the mayor’s house to continue reading The Whistler. When the mayor’s wife offers her the book, Liesel declines, and says she is content to read a few pages each time she delivers the laundry. As usual, she searches garbage cans for newspapers with empty crosswords for Max. She also begins describing the weather to him, which he illustrates by painting on the basement wall. When he is alone, Max does push-ups to regain his strength and fantasizes about boxing Hitler. He describes this fantasy to Liesel, and together Hans, Rosa, Liesel and Max paint over the remaining pages of MKPF so Max can write another book.

In June of 1941, Germany invades Russia, and Russia allies itself with Britain. As a result, the mayor of Molching writes an editorial urging townspeople to prepare for hard times. The next time Liesel visits the mayor’s wife, Frau Hermann, she gives Liesel a letter for Rosa, informing her they can no longer afford to send out their washing. Frau Hermann also gives Liesel The Whistler and says she is still welcome to come and read in the library. Outraged, Liesel screams at Frau Hermann, telling her to get over the death of her son, and throws the book at her feet. Back at home, she takes the blame for Rosa being fired, but Rosa doesn’t believe her. Meanwhile, Rudy is continuing to attend his Hitler Youth meetings, along with the hearing-impaired Tommy Müller. Precision is very important to the Hitler Youth leaders, but because Tommy can’t hear the command to stop when they are marching, he often marches into the boy in front of him, disrupting the procession. When Rudy tries to stand up for Tommy, they both get assigned laps and push-ups on a muddy field.

Rudy and Liesel return to their apple-stealing activities, but the gang has a new leader, Viktor Chemmel, who takes a disliking to them. Rudy continues to be terrorized by his sadistic Hitler Youth leader, Franz Deutscher, who forces him to do push-ups in cow manure. Hoping to cheer him up, Liesel takes him to the mayor’s house, where the library window has been left open. Telling Rudy she is going to steal food, Liesel climbs in the window, but instead returns with The Whistler. A few days later, Rudy tries to steal a potato but is caught by the grocer. He runs into Deutscher on the street, and when he refuses to answer when Hitler’s birthday is, Deutscher beats him up and cuts his hair off with a knife. After this, Rudy stops attending the Hitler Youth meetings. Liesel and Rudy return to the gang of apple thieves. Viktor Chemmel sees The Whistler in Liesel’s hand and grabs it and throws it in the river. Rudy jumps in and saves the book for Liesel. He asks her for a kiss in return, but as always, she refuses.

Analysis

The section builds tension in a few ways, the most notable being Death’s foreshadowing of Rudy’s death. At the beginning of the section, after Death reveals that Rudy has less than two years left to live, he says he doesn’t have “much interest in building mystery… I know what happens and so do you.” On one level, this is a supremely ironic statement, since one of life’s greatest mysteries is how and when a person will die. Death may know these details, but the rest of us do not. On another level, however, Death is telling the truth: Death is an inevitability for everyone, so in a sense he’s not spoiling anything by informing us that Rudy will die. Even so, by making a point of Rudy’s impending, untimely demise, the narrator increases the poignancy and tension of the subsequent scenes regarding Rudy. The tension is also intensified regarding Max in this section. While he goes about seemingly ordinary activities such as getting a haircut, or doing the crossword in the papers Liesel brings him, he also is constantly aware of the precariousness of his situation. He sleeps fully clothed, with his shoes on, in case he needs to flee again.

Although Liesel has mostly seemed happy lately, her strong reaction to Frau Hermann informing her she won’t be using Rosa for her washing anymore seems to stem from a feeling of helplessness and that Frau Hermann is doing something unjust. Liesel knows her family is already struggling to get by. The Hubermanns were already relatively poor before the war, and with people in Molching cutting back on their spending as the war intensifies Rosa has lost a number of customers. The family additionally has to feed Max out of their rations, and everyone in the family is under stress as they hide him and keep the secret from everyone they know. Liesel feels all these pressures, but she can’t do anything to help the family beyond collecting payments and delivering laundry for Rosa. In addition, she frequently sees firsthand how much the Hermanns have compared to her family. When Frau Hermann tells Liesel about her decision, Liesel feels even more helpless and that the Hermanns are depriving the Hubermanns when they have plenty to spare. In response, she blows up at Frau Hermann.

Rudy endures his own struggles in this section. Both the leader of the Hitler Youth group and the leader of the apple-stealing gang single out Rudy, who is unable to keep his mouth shut and stay out of things, for abuse. In these episodes, Rudy is establishing his own ethical code, identifying himself as a character who will risk physical harm to stand up for what he thinks is right, and prevent the persecution of others. In his own way, Rudy is as brave as Liesel, though he expresses this bravery through physical acts rather than keeping secrets. Two of the characters we meet in this section, the Hitler Youth leader and the new leader of the apple-stealing gang, are especially cruel. This is the first instance of kids acting sadistically. Even Ludwig, who fought Liesel in the schoolyard, was later revealed to be a sympathetic character, and apologized for his actions. The two characters in this section, however, are entirely unsympathetic. They both have power, either officially conferred by the state or self-appointed, and they use this power to humiliate and control those with less power, just as the adult Nazis, up to Hitler himself, use their power to oppress the powerless. The acquisition, use, and abuse of power is one of the important ideas in the book.

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