Throughout The Book Thief, Death is a major character as well as the narrator. Through the personification of Death, author Marcus Zusak makes an abstract concept seem as real as the human characters that populate the novel’s settings. As the narrator, Death has a strong voice and compels the reader to pay attention to their point of view. Death is the most universal and powerful force. It is presented as both omnipresent and omnipotent: no matter where they are, Death is also there, and no one can escape if this force decides it is time to take that person.
The humanlike qualities of Death become especially important in the war-time setting of the novel. The odds of a person dying increase drastically during a war, especially in places that are being attacked by bombs or ground forces. As the narrator, Death is uniquely positioned to describe the havoc that war wreaks. A macabre tone is created by Death’s narrative, as it speaks appreciatively of things that horrify humans, such as the burning buildings.
Death the narrator also seems bizarrely human in appreciating the human characters. The paradox that Death can seem fond of Rudy at one moment and then blithely take his life the next augments the atmosphere of insecurity that characterizes wartime. Death’s humanlike capacity for emotion also can help the reader understand why Death would spare Liesel and Max.