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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Eight

Part Seven

Part Nine

Summary

Nazi soldiers arrive at Rudy’s house, and while his siblings play dominoes, Rudy recalls an incident from earlier that week, when soldiers came to his school and forced him and two classmates to strip in front of the school nurse. The soldiers want to take Rudy to a special Nazi training school because of his athleticism and intelligence. Rudy’s father, Alex, refuses to let the soldiers take his son and volunteers in his son’s place. Hans, meanwhile, learns that his application to join the Nazi Party has been accepted, and that he is being drafted into the German army. Eventually Hans leaves for duty, telling Liesel to take care of Rosa and his accordion while he’s gone. After Rudy’s father leaves for duty, Rudy sets out walking, saying he wants to find and kill Hitler, but Liesel convinces him to turn back before they reach the edge of town. They visit Rudy’s father’s abandoned clothing shop but don’t go in. At night, Rosa holds Hans’s accordion.

Hans is sent to Essen, Germany, to serve in the Air Raid Special Unit, which rescues survivors of air raids and collects the bodies of the victims. Between air raids, the unit cleans the rubble from towns that have been bombed. During one raid, an old man dies in Hans’s arms and he trips over the corpse of a young boy. Meanwhile, back in Molching, Liesel wonders what’s happening to Hans, Max, and Rudy’s father. She continues reading to Frau Holtzapfel. That winter, the parades of Jews continue. Rudy and Liesel ride their bikes ahead of one of the parades, scattering bread for the prisoners. They then hide in the trees to watch. Liesel hopes to see Max. Instead, she and Rudy are caught by a soldier, who kicks her and tells her she doesn’t belong there.

Liesel continues reading out loud in the shelter during air raids. One day, after returning from the shelter, Rosa gives Liesel a book that Max left for her. The story is called “The Word Shaker,” and it is a collection of sketches and stories Max wrote about his life and Liesel’s. The first story describes Hitler realizing the power of words, and determining to use words to control the world. In the story, words grow on trees, as seeds, and word shakers climb the trees to shake down the seeds. One word shaker, a young girl, plants a seed that sprouted from a tear. The seed grows into a tall tree. When soldiers come to cut down the tree, the girl climbs to the top and refuses to leave. The soldiers’ axes have no effect on the tree. At last a man arrives in the forest with a hammer. He hammers nails into the tree, then climbs up to sit with the girl. When they come down, the tree falls at last. After reading the book, Liesel dreams of a tree. Christmas comes, and Liesel takes Rudy back to his father’s suit shop. They break in and steal a suit for Rudy. Rudy and Liesel almost kiss, but don’t.

Analysis

The war begins affecting the families in the story in an even more personal way in this section as both Hans and Rudy’s father are called to service. The war has been inching closer and closer to Molching over the last few sections as residents begin having to worry about bomb raids and have recently started seeing the Jewish prisoners paraded through on their way to Dachau. Now both Hans and Alex Steiner are called to serve in the Nazi army, and it’s a huge blow to both families. For the Steiners, it’s there first real contact with the war beyond the food shortages that have affected their family, and for the Hubermanns, it’s yet another difficult challenge for Rosa and Liesel. Rosa is already worried about Hans Jr., who is fighting in Russia, and the whole family is upset over Max’s having to leave. Now Hans, who is both their main source of income and the emotional heart of the family, is leaving and may not return.

Liesel continues her emotional development as she again emulates Hans’s compassion and leaves bread for the Jewish prisoners, though she doesn’t seem to have a true sense of the danger of her actions, making it clear that she is still young and naïve. More and more Liesel has begun taking care of others, signaling that she’s growing from a child to an adult. Hans’s behavior has been a notable example to her. He’s been something of a moral guide for her to follow, and here we see her copying his act of giving bread to the Jewish prisoner. Liesel, however, doesn’t seem to realize the danger inherent in what she’s doing, even though she saw Hans badly whipped for doing the same. She and Rudy hide in the bushes and watch, as though they were involved in a game, and they’re lucky to escape punishment. This behavior shows that, although Liesel is maturing, she is still basically a child and may not understand the full consequences of her actions.

In this section the idea of a united Aryan Germany is again called into question through Rudy. Though the Nazis tried to push their ideology of a dominant Aryan master race on all Germans, we’ve already seen many instances of people resisting this ideology, such as Hans who sympathizes with and helps Jews. Rudy has previously also resisted simply by idolizing Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete, and here again we see him questioning that ideology. Rudy, with his blond hair, blue eyes, athletic talents and intelligence, would seem the perfect Nazi specimen, the embodiment of the master race Hitler wants to produce to take over the world. But Rudy is not so sure about Hitler’s vision for the future. When the nurse examines him, he feels cold and humiliated, not “part of the master race.” He also is compassionate and sensitive, handing out bread to the Jews. As Liesel notes about Rudy, “she heard his stomach growl—and he was giving people bread…Was this Nazi Germany?” Rudy also declares that he wants to kill Hitler for stealing his father. All these examples show that Rudy, and probably many others like him, didn’t necessarily agree with the Nazis, even if they were typical Germans and fit the Aryan ideal.

Although Liesel still refuses to kiss Rudy, their relationship nonetheless reaches a new level of intimacy in this section. Rudy struggles to deal with the departure of his father and feels helpless because there’s nothing he can do to change the situation. Liesel recognizes how he’s feeling, and she shows how much she cares for her friend by staying at his side. Even as they walk to the outskirts of town, Liesel doesn’t turn back until she knows Rudy will come with her. At Christmas, Liesel again shows how much she cares for Rudy by her gift. She plans one of his favorite activities: stealing, which always gives him a feeling of empowerment. But this time she has has him steal a suit from his father’s tailor shop. This theft isn’t an act of disrespect toward his father’s shop. Instead, it acts as a way for Rudy to connect with his father through one of his suits. In essence Liesel found a way to give him a gift from his absent father. In the scene they engage in plenty of the playful mocking that characterizes their conversations, but by the end that mockery has faded away. It’s a sincere moment they share, and though she doesn’t actually kiss Rudy, it’s clear Liesel wants to from her thoughts. The moment is the closest they’ve been thus far in the novel.

The story Liesel receives from Max is essentially a parable about the power of words and it shows how they’ve been a refuge for Liesel and Max. It begins with Hitler realizing that through words he can take over the world, and that he chose words, as opposed to weapons or money or political power, suggests words are the most powerful force there is. The words take on the form of seeds in the story, and these seeds grow into what are basically word trees that fill people with ideas and symbols—in other words, Nazi ideology. What’s notable is that there’s a class of people who are basically outside this system, the word shakers, who recognize the power of words. Liesel, according to Max, is one of these, and a tear that she sheds creates its own word tree. Liesel uses this tree for shelter, and in that image Max is saying that the understanding and love Liesel bears for words, born from her suffering (the tear), has provided her a refuge from the Nazi trees all around. Max is able to climb the tree in the story, indicating that he was also able to find some refuge from Nazism in Liesel’s words.

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