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In The Book Thief, how is Death haunted by humans?

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maybelle-joy | Student, Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted August 21, 2012 at 8:14 PM via web

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In The Book Thief, how is Death haunted by humans?

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 21, 2012 at 11:10 PM (Answer #1)

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In this last section of The Book Thief, Death considers what to tell Liesel about her story and human stories in general. Death wanted to tell her about "beauty and brutality," but he concludes there is nothing to tell her about such things that she didn't already know. Death is fascinated by the human race. Although he often speaks/narrates with indifference, he does "color" human experience in his own eyes and must distract himself at times because he pities them (which implies an emotional or at least a sympathetic reaction). 

When Death says "I am haunted by humans," he is captivated by their hypocrisy. That is, Death is haunted by how they can be "so ugly and so glorious" and how their "words and stories" could be "so damning and so brilliant" (550). In other words, Death is haunted by the history of the human race and its contradictory record of things wonderful and awful. 

Since Death is really at a loss for words here, when he simply says he is "haunted by humans," he actually wants to ask Liesel what she thinks of contradictory human nature. Death admits to constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race. Death is therefore surprised when humans illustrate their greatness and benevolence and Death is equally surprised/dismayed when humans illustrate their destructive side. Death is not only haunted by the deaths he must attend to. Death is also haunted by human potential; he is even bewildered by this human dichotomy of good/evil. The fact that he admits to overestimating and underestimating implies that he still does not fully understand the human race. In this sense, humans are still mysterious to Death. This is interesting because it is reciprocal; humans find Death equally (or more) mysterious. 

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