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What conclusions can be drawn as to the power of words in The Book Thief?

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droberts1395 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:33 AM via web

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What conclusions can be drawn as to the power of words in The Book Thief?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 20, 2012 at 7:29 AM (Answer #1)

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Words are something that are clearly a major focus of this excellent novel. Whether it is printed words in the books that are variously burnt, stolen or written, or the physical words that are uttered, the novel focuses on how words have the power to show humans at their best but also at their worst. Let us remember that Death, the narrator of the novel, sets out his purpose for telling this story. He keeps Leisel's story as it is "an attempt--an immense leap of an attempt--to prove to me that you, and your human existence, [is] worth it."

Throughout the story that Death tells us there are many examples of how words demonstrate the capacity of humans to commit evil but also how such words can be transformed into acts of hope and human liberation, such as when Max paints the pages of Hitler's Mein Kampf white so he can transform them into a new book, one that offers words of hope and power. Let us remember how Death concludes the book when he finally collects the soul of Leisel:

I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race--that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and brilliant.

The power of words are therefore shown in the way that Death, at least, measures our value by the words we create and utter, and the way that they are used. The novel shows how those words can be both "damning and brilliant." Words, and the power that they have, therefore reflect our value and worth.

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