The Prologue of The Book Thief foreshadows some of the most important themes of the book: death is a part of life, friendship occurs in the most unusual places, and war is inhuman.
Death is a Natural Part of Life
In the beginning of the book, Death introduces himself by telling the reader bluntly, “You are going to die” (p. 3). He then continues to describe himself with a variety of positive adjectives, including “affable” and “cheerful” to tell the reader that he’s not all bad, and he hopes you won’t hold it against him. Throughout the book, Death will repeat the idea that he’s just doing his job—and during World War II he had to put in a lot of overtime.
I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough. (p. 4)
Death is aware that most people don’t believe him. This is one of the key themes because death is a part of life, but most people go along denying that. However, Death is “nothing if not fair” (p. 3). We will all know him sooner or later, “depending on a wide range of variables” (p. 4).
Friendship Occurs in the Most Unusual Places
Death has already told the reader how friendly he is. In the prologue, he also goes on to establish one of the other key themes, that friendship is everywhere, even in times of hardship. Death describes the “survivors” as being the ones he really cannot stand. These “leftover humans” are suffering, and Death clearly does not like to watch. Yet by mentioning a girl, some words, an accordionist, and a Jewish fist fighter, the main friendships and associations in the story are foreshadowed (p. 5).
It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind. (p. 5)
War is Inhuman
As mentioned above, Death is annoyed by the carnage of World War II. He mentions “fanatical Germans” (p. 5)
The question is, what color will everything be at the moment when I come for you? (p. 4)
Death says his one saving grace is distraction, and he distracts himself by focusing on colors. Throughout the book he shares his pain with us, and makes us look at the tragedy of war in a whole new way.