What is the significance of the dominos in the scene of The Book Thief where the two Nazis come for Rudy?

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The dominoes in the story are incredibly symbolic. When the Nazis come looking for Rudy, he is playing dominoes and setting up a tower of destruction. There are many things at play, first of which is the dominoes representing the destruction of people under the thumb of the Nazis. As the book says that the Nazis, and Rudy himself perhaps, would observe the destruction and smile, it is intimating the cruelty of the Nazi regime.

Another interesting point is the foreshadowing of the coming end to the war. Soon, the entire Nazi machine will collapse, which makes Rudy’s parents’ attempts to get him into a special Nazi school all the more futile.

Finally, it is noted that he makes three groups that converge and collapse upon a central tower. This is metaphorical, most likely of the Allied nations—Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. They will converge on Berlin and lead to the end of Nazism. In that regard, it is possible that the foreshadowing is saying that Rudy, since he has not been yet indoctrinated by the Nazis, will smile as he witnesses the destruction of the Nazi party by the Allied forces, being overjoyed by the freedom.

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In part eight of Zusak's The Book Thief, there is a section called "Dominoes and Darkness." It is here where the two Nazis come for Rudy, but get his father instead. While they are trying to convince his parents to allow him to go to a special school that trains future Nazi officers, Rudy is playing dominoes in the next room with his siblings. He sets up three formations that will all converge in the middle at the same tower.

"Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would all smile at the beauty of destruction" (408).

Zusak's word choice in the above passage not only creates a foreshadowing of the destruction that the Steiner family will see in the coming months, but also a symbolic connection between the dominoes and people's lives. For example, Kurt comes in after all of the dominoes fall and says, "They look like dead bodies" (410). This is another foreshadowing of all the dead bodies that the Steiners and the town of Molching will experience as the Allies penetrate deeper into Germany and as the war continues.

Thus, the dominoes represent cause and effect. Just as one domino falls, others are taken out in the process. This can be likened to the decision that the Steiners make at this point in the story. Instead of sending Rudy to military school, they are forced to send their husband and father to war—cause and effect. The decision to send the father to war and keep Rudy home sets off a series of events that may have also caused Rudy's death. Had Rudy been at military school, he may have been saved from the bombings of Molching and lived.

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