The Book Thief: What is the impact of Max in Liesel's life and what is the importance of Max as a character?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, Max Vandenburg is a 22-year-old Jewish man who hides in the Hubermann household. Max is a fighter, through and through, and when we first meet him in the story, he is fighting to survive in hiding. He imagines using his fist fighting skills from childhood to beat down his many oppressors in Nazi Germany. He is also fighting with his own guilt about leaving his family behind and about the danger in which he is putting the people who are hiding him. He even fights Hitler in a way, by painting and writing over the pages of Mein Kampf. Through Max's strength and struggle, Markus Zusak shows the many ways that persecuted people have their lives destroyed and how much they need to fight to keep what little is left to them. He shows that Max retains his fighting spirit even in the face of terrible danger and uncertain odds. 

Max and Liesel's relationship is a critical one in the novel. At first, Max represents a terrifying danger in her life, as Hans explains to her harshly, so she'll understand the magnitude of it, in Chapter 33. On the other hand, Max's presence brings out new sides of the family members, especially Rosa, who Liesel begins to see as caring and even tender. Later, Liesel and Max's relationship begins and develops over their love of books. She sees him with Mein Kampf, a book she has been curious about but never read. When she finally works up the courage to ask him about it, their shared enthusiasm brings them together, as do their recurring nightmares about their family tragedies. Their friendship grows as Max makes Liesel a book for her birthday and she tells him daily about the weather outside. Through these small actions, Liesel and Max help one another survive the horrors of war, using their love and friendship and their appreciation for words and creativity. They develop these traits within one another and come out more resilient for it.