The Book Thief Characters
The main characters in The Book Thief include Death, Liesel Meminger, and Hans Hubermann.
- Death is the narrator of The Book Thief.
- Liesel Meminger, the main character of the novel, is a young girl who lives with the Hubermanns. Her father has been taken to a concentration camp for being assumed to have communist beliefs.
- Hans Hubermann becomes Liesel’s surrogate father in the absence of her own father. He teaches her to read and shows her kindness. In addition to Liesel, Hans and his wife shelter Max, a Jewish man who bonds with Liesel.
Last Updated on May 16, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805
Death plays a crucial role in this story, as he is the one that narrates the events and often casts the mood of the tale being told. It is he who leads us to the main characters, describes them, and gives an overall perspective on their lives. He also takes time to comment on his job taking souls from bodies, and during the main events of the story, he is very busy, as the story takes place during World War II. He describes the color of people’s souls as he escorts them away and the color of the skies when he goes to fetch them. These colors are symbolic of the personalities of the dying or of the mood of the world’s events at the time of his arrival.
The main character of the story, Liesel, is a nine-year-old girl who has been housed in the home of the Hubermanns, a German couple, because her father is taken away to a concentration camp for allegedly having communist leanings. Readers are first introduced to her as she is riding on a train with her mother and younger brother; her younger brother dies in her arms on the train. This experience is traumatic for her, and she spends the next several years tormented by nightmares of her brother’s death. She adjusts well to her new home with the Hubermanns, particularly developing a special bond with Hans Hubermann, and learns to read through Hans’s patient instruction. The title of the book refers to Liesel, as she tends to steal books on a whim or in acts of sheer curiosity about their contents. Throughout the story, Liesel demonstrates a strong capability to endure, adapt, and cope with difficult circumstances despite her vulnerability, as she is emotionally affected by all that goes on around her. She also reveals courage and integrity as she demonstrates compassion and acts of human decency toward those around her who are suffering.
Liesel’s surrogate father in the book, Hans is a kind, loving, and patient man who often puts himself in potentially very dangerous situations in order to do what he feels is right. He takes care of Liesel with affection and love, helping her each night as she wakes up from nightmares and laboriously teaching her how to read. He earns his living through house and store painting, and on the side he enjoys playing the accordion. Throughout the book he struggles with whether he should join the Nazi party, for his and his family’s safety. He does not agree with the party’s principles but fears that if he does not become a member, he is exposing his family to harm. It is Hans’s capacity for kindness and his courage in sticking to his convictions and to his word that helps Liesel to adjust to her life so well. His compassion also compels him to shelter Max, a Jewish refugee. Both of these characters’ lives are impacted forever because of his goodness.
Known for her foul mouth and tough-love tactics, Rosa nonetheless loves fiercely and does all she can to take care of Liesel and, later on, Max, the Jewish refugee who lives in her basement. Her rough exterior is more endearing than frightening, as it masks a soft and good heart.
Liesel’s best friend, Rudy, is an exuberant and energetic character filled with happy schemes and big dreams. He hopes to one day be the fastest kid in Germany, making it to the Olympics. Almost from the beginning of the novel, it is evident that Rudy has a crush on Liesel, and he constantly hounds her for a kiss; his affection for Liesel makes him a loyal and attentive friend. He is her partner in crime, in standing up to bullies, and in suffering.
A Jewish fist-fighter, Max eventually becomes a refugee, hiding from the Nazis and trying to survive in the middle of Germany during World War II. At first he is aided by friends, but eventually he ends up on Hans Hubermann’s doorstep. Max lives in the Hubermanns’ basement and becomes good friends with Liesel. They often read together and bond over the fact that they both have nightmares. Knowing of Liesel’s fondness for books, Max writes a book of his own for her, painting the pictures and words on the backs of pages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Throughout the novel, Max struggles with guilt over leaving his family behind, letting the SS officers into their home in the first place, and not protecting his family from being taken away, most likely to their deaths. The lone survivor of his family, he searches for information about where his parents and sister might have gone but comes up empty-handed.