Christian described Jews as a “disease” (110) infecting

Christian Von EperMrs. Foster9 Honors EnglishMonday, Jan. 8th 2018Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ analysisThe most powerful way we communicate is with words. In The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, the impact of words and symbols strikes deep into the main character’s roots. From the negative impact of the anti-Jewish stigmas to the soothing effect of Liesel’s reading, words have both a positive and negative influence on the major characters. The composition of the novel also allows for demonstrations of this theme through Death’s usage of metaphors and other literary devices. Within the story, Zusak exhibits the theorem that words—whether present or absent—have power.Words can also be dangerous in their absence. Hans puts himself at risk when he paints over a slur on a Jewish shop. There is latent power in the act of naming; the Nazis claimed this authority over the Jews by propagating derogatory names. Hans refuses to use or accept those stigmas, therein showing us that he believes Jews equal. His refusal also makes it clear that propaganda won’t influence his decisions, and are therefore unpredictable, risky.The negative power of words and symbols is omnipresent, due to the fact of the setting in Nazi Germany. One particularly strong aspect of this negative influence is in the anti-Semitic sentiments. “Jewry was…a label” (216) – In Nazi Germany, people constantly harass Jews, the clearest example of which being on Kristallnacht, 1938, with exposé like “Jewish Filth” painted on the Jewish shops and houses. The Nazi people described Jews as a “disease” (110) infecting their country.  The propaganda against Jews corrupted people’s moral judgment against them, therefore causing more people to commit acts of violence and crime against the Jews, resulting in their dehumanization, their acclimatization for survival. However, not everyone is affected by the Führer’s  propaganda. Rosa and Hans were such, even saving a Jew from the horrors of the Nazi’s clutches. That Jew was Max.Much of Hitler’s power results from his skill with words. In Max’s fable, “The Word Shaker,” he shows Hitler as having decided to “rule the world with words” and calls Germany “a nation of farmed thoughts” (445). In Max’s daydreams, he challenges Hitler in a boxing ring. Max lands a firm blow, only for Hitler to call out to the audience of Germans, and remind them that Jews are an infestation, then implore them to “climb up into this ring” and “defeat this enemy together” (254). Hitler, an elegant speaker, uses words as a means to seduce, influence, and mobilize an entire nation. Liesel most pertinently describes it; “Without words, the Führer is nothing” (521).Any words that identify someone as undesirable to the ruling party can carry danger with them. Liesel’s sole evidence about her true father is that he was a communist, a word she later related to punishment and death. She discovered that the “evil machinations” (110) were communists that continued poisoning the Führer’s land. Further, Max recognizes that “Jew” is a dangerous word and can get him and his angels in trouble. Jew is a label for those who “violate the German ideal” (110), so Germans who try to help them are guilty of treason.Words convey meaning but can have many meanings, depending on how one understands them or speaks them. German profanity, particularly the terms saukerl and saumensch, appears throughout the book. Liesel, when she begins living with the Hubermanns, documents the profanity as “vehement and prolific” (32). However, it was a statement of endearment. One of the clearest examples is Rudy’s recurring request, “How about a kiss, Saumensch?” (24­­1). We see the reverse in Max, who thinks of the words “thank you” not as an expression of gratitude, but rather “the most pitiful words he could say” (208); as a Jew in hiding, saying thank you means accepting undeserved kindness, which in turn feeds guilt. Sometimes, the subtext of certain phrases can be more important than the literal meaning. When Max arrives at the Hubermann’s house and asks Hans, “Do you still play the accordion?” he really meant “Will you help me?” (185). The capacity of words to hurt and heal is a very important idea in the book. After Ilsa Hermann tells her they will no longer need Rosa to do the washing, Liesel swears at Ilsa and says she is pathetic because she can’t cope with the loss of her son. Here, Liesel discovers the “brutality of words” (262). She heals herself by writing about her life, her brother, Max, and her time on Himmel Street. She ultimately saves herself this way; figuratively, in that she gains emotional closure, and literally, because she is in the basement, writing when the allies attack.At times, words can sustain people. Not always enough to save them, but enough to get them through. Even when Max is ill, Liesel reads to him constantly, as though “the words alone could nourish him” (328). When Max is well, he stays confined to the Hubermann’s basement. In another basement, when the whole neighborhood cowers in fear of bombs, Liesel’s reading keeps everyone calm enough to ease their fear and prevent a descent into chaos. Liesel’s words even sustain Death; he carries her book with him and allows her story to distract him as he works.