How did the point of view in The Book Thief affect the story?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first person narrator, Death, makes it seem like a third person narration with Liesel, allowing the reader distance from the main character and a unique perspective on war.

The narrator of the book is Death.  This is an unusual enough concept, and it allows distance from the main events of the book.  For the parts of the book where Liesel, the real main character, is described, we have essentially a third person omniscient narrator because Death, being basically immortal and all knowing, is essentially omniscient.  Because Death found Liesel’s book, he knows essentially what she was thinking and feeling.

Death provides us with interludes of his own “life” during World War II, providing us with the backdrop of the Holocaust and the War.  He also tells the story out of order, going back and forth in an order that makes sense to him.  This allows for foreshadowing for main events, such as the bombing of Himmel Street, and creates emotional tension.

Yes, the sky was now a devastating, home-cooked red. The small German town had been flung apart one more time.  Snowflakes of ash fell so lovelily you were tempted to stretch out your tongue to catch them, taste them.   (The Flag)

When the story focuses in on Liesel, as it does most of the time, the narration is a typical third person omniscient style.  The reader remembers that Death is telling us the story, because he occasionally makes humorously poignant comments.  His style is touching and warm, and very human for such an otherworldly narrator.  Never was there such a third person omniscient first person narrator!  He tells another person’s story with loving grace, because although he is death, it means something to him.

 I traveled the globe as always, handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity.  … Several times, I warned myself that I should keep a good distance from the burial of Liesel Meminger’s brother. I did not heed my advice. (Arrival on Himmel Street)

Liesel touched him that day, when he saw her brother die.  It was a connection that he somehow maintained.  In this book, we do not see the Grim Reaper or a cool, detached version of death, or even a scary one.  He is more like an overworked postman, delivering souls.  He thinks in imagery, and dreams about chocolate.  All the time, he is captivated by the people he meets, and, ironically, haunted by them.

This vision of the events completely changes how we see them.  Because we know what will happen, and because we get things out of order and colored by Death's immortality, we have a different picture painted by us.  Death gives us a gift.  We get a different kind of war book, and a completely unique version of the Holocaust.