In The Book Thief, what is the moral lesson Liesel learns? Does it relate to death?

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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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One of the moral lessons that Liesel learns in The Book Thief is that even in the heart of tragedy, good is still possible.  Liesel is no stranger to grief--many of her family members are killed and her mother has to give her away to the Hubermanns so that she can survive.  The Nazi regime creates a constant threat to everyone around Liesel, but from Hans, Liesel learns that people can still be good at heart.  Hans takes in Max even though this act of kindness could bring death to the entire family.  Similarly, when Hans sees starving people being marched to Dachau, he offers one of the men a piece of bread for which he is beaten.  Hans risks his own safety to follow what he believes to be morally right.  As a result, Liesel learns that good can withstand evil.

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Zusak's The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger learns that when someone in her life dies, there will be someone else there to pick her up. She also learns that life is full of dark and light moments, but mostly dark ones. At the beginning of the book, for example, Liesel's little brother dies and her mother gives her away. Hans and Rosa Hubermann pick her up during a time of grief and they become her true parents. Before Liesel fully accepts that her mother is never coming back to her, though, she takes some of Rosa's laundry money to buy postage and to send her mother some letters. Rosa beats her for this treachery and Liesel spends the rest of the day on the kitchen floor grieving the reality that her mother is gone for good. It isn't until Hans plays his accordion that night that she sits up. This is the moment that Liesel learns a major life lesson and it is described as follows:

"When she wrote about that night, she held no animosity toward Rosa Hubermann at all, or toward her mother for that matter. To her, they were only victims of circumstance . . . She was beaten in the dark . . . and the book thief began to truly understand how things were and how they would always be. If nothing else, she could prepare herself" (99-100).

Liesel not only learns that people die without any notice, but they also leave and never return. She realizes that people are "victims of circumstance," which means that there are no guarantees in life. None of the dark experiences in Liesel's life are anyone's fault—they just happen. There's nothing personal associated with being a victim of circumstance, either. She learns that when the next unexpected happening takes someone away from her, she will at least be prepared to acknowledge it and to accept it. So when Liesel loses Mama, Papa, Rudy and all the Steiners, she grieves, but she also knows that it isn't personal.

Then, just like Hans and Rosa Hubermann picked her up after her mother left, Ilsa Hermann picks her up after their deaths. Liesel finds someone to take care of her—a new mother. She is also reunited with Max and is able to spend time with Rudy's father in his shop as well. Even though there are times when it seems as though she has lost everything and everyone, there truly are others who step in and pick up the pieces. Life is made up of both light and dark times, and she is ready to face whatever life throws at her.


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