What is the significance of color in The Book Thief? Give 2 examples of how it is used and the effect it had on you as a reader.

One way color is used in The Book Thief is to signify diversity. Death tells how he tries to enjoy the “multitude of shades and intonations” each day. The significance of that could be that Death, as opposed to the Nazis, likes variety and diversity. Another example is the color white. At some points, white could signify the overwhelming, totalitarian nature of the Nazis. In other scenes, the significance of white might have more to do with Liesel’s reading.

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In The Book Thief, color is linked to the complex and ambiguous nature of human morality. Colors are associated with beauty, goodness, and positivity in the book, but are also associated with tragedy, evil, and atrocity. As such, color reflects the diverse spectrum of human behavior and emotion.


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In The Book Thief, color is linked to the complex and ambiguous nature of human morality. Colors are associated with beauty, goodness, and positivity in the book, but are also associated with tragedy, evil, and atrocity. As such, color reflects the diverse spectrum of human behavior and emotion.

This novel is set during a terribly dark time in history, in Nazi Germany during World War II. Color symbolically offers some brightness and beauty against the backdrop of dark historical tragedy and suffering.

This idea is discussed by the narrator, Death, who uses colors to distract himself from the dismal nature of his work. Throughout history, Death has witnessed tragic deaths, wars, and terrible acts of human cruelty. He relies on the beautiful, captivating colors of the world to endure his grueling job:

I do try to enjoy every color I see—the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress.

Although there are terrible things in the world, the existence of colors and beauty "takes the edge off," according to Death. Colors don't eliminate the suffering in the world entirely, but they do diminish the impact as they offer a distraction.

There are a few examples of the beauty of colors in The Book Thief, including when Liesel encounters a collection of beautiful books:

Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.

These books stand out to Liesel, offering some vibrancy and excitement in her life. The color of the books stands out against the darkness of her experiences, which might represent the comfort books can offer people in dark times.

Conversely, colors also represent the darkness and evil of the world, such as the death and destruction caused by World War II. Consider the following passage:

The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness … Then, bombs.

In this extract, the colors have a disheartening impact on the reader. These colors are not beautiful or vibrant, but instead represent the violence and death caused by the war. Significantly, these colors (red and black) are part of the Nazi flag, linking them to the devastation caused by the political party and ideology during World War II.

Overall, color is a complex symbol in this book. While colors can be associated with beauty, kindness, and goodness, they can also be associated with the worst aspects of humanity, such as cruelty and violence. Death considers the diverse, contradictory nature of humanity in the following passage:

The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.

The use of color in The Book Thief invites the reader to consider the nuanced and complicated nature of humanity, which can paradoxically be both beautiful and ugly at the same time.

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Considering Death’s preoccupation with color, you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding two examples of color in the book. As for significance, that might be a bit harder, but I can help you with this.

One way example of color comes at the start when Death says he tries to “enjoy” every color he sees. He goes on to note the “multitude of shades and intonations” that occur within each day.

The significance of this might have something to do with diversity. This might be Death’s way of suggesting that variety is beneficial and admirable. Remember, Death’s story takes place in Nazi Germany. Nazis did not promote a multicolored society. They wanted a society of only one color and only one type of person.

Speaking of Nazis, you could talk about the first appearance of white. “First up is something white,” says Death. “Of the blinding kind.” In this instance, white’s significance might be linked to Nazis. Like white, the Nazis were “blinding.” They obstructed and impaired people with their force and propaganda.

White could also possess an amiable significance. The pages of Liesel’s books are white. More so, one of the books she takes from the library features white engraved writing. In these moments, white’s significance seems tied to reading and learning—positive activities.

Indeed, Death seems to assign colors more than one kind of significance. Take black, for another example. Black seems to represent death. One early mention of black comes in connection to a plane crash. Yet Death labels the deadly, destructive crash “a beautiful thing in some ways.” Somehow, black signifies death and beauty at the same time. Perhaps there’s something beautiful about death.

As for the impact the colors had on you as a reader, you’ll have to answer that for yourself. For me, the constant focus on colors kind of made feel like I was peering into a kaleidoscope.

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This question seems to be an essay question that your teacher has asked you to respond to; I can help to give you some ideas, and I hope that you can use them to spark your own opinions and examples to use in an essay that you write yourself.

Color, in "The Book Thief" is used by the narrator, Death, to describe the skies and souls in the moments that he comes to take people's spirits away.  It is also, as Death states a couple pages in, a "distraction..vacation...in colors."  It is a way of distracting him from his awful job; he notices the colors of the day around him, and of the souls that he takes.  It is highly symbolic; on peaceful days, the skies are blue.  On awful days of war and destruction, the skies are blood-red and the color of fire and smoke.  The colors represent either the events of the world or area at that time, or, the personality and temperment of the soul that Death is taking.  For excellent quotes to use for your essay, look to the first few pages of the book, where Death describes some of the significance of colors.

The first specific reference to a color coordinating with an event is white, where Death comes for Liesel's brother. It is white because it is winter, and there is snow everywhere, a "blinding kind" of white.  Here, color represents both the environment that death has come to, and, a second function, a distraction for him.  He mentions,

"I studied the blinding, white-snow sky...I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered.  I buckled--I became interested."

The scene of Liesel and her mother grieving piqued his interest, and he tries desparately to distract himself with the color white around him, but fails, and sticks around a while to learn more.  So in this quote, a few pages into the novel, we see color used as both a descriptor of environment, AND a distraction for death.  For other great examples, look to the beginnings and endings of the chapters--this is most often where Death steps in and talks about colors.  You'll find good examples there.

To describe how color impacts you as a reader, think about what images each color that you use in your examples conjures up in your mind.  What feelings or images come to mind with each color mentioned, and how does that add to the emotional impact of the example itself?

I hope that these thoughts can help to get you started; good luck!

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