What is the impact of Max on Liesel's life and his importance as a character in The Book Thief?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Max Vandenburg is a Jewish man who hides in Liesel's home. His father protected Hans, Liesel's foster father, during the First World War, so Hans tries to keep Max safe from the Nazis even though it puts his family's lives in danger. Max and Liesel, even though they seem quite different, can relate to each other in many ways. They both admire Hans and love his accordion, and both experience nightmares about what they've gone through in the past.

Max is important to both Liesel and the story. He writes books about Liesel, telling her how her friendship gives him strength during his hiding. He becomes one of her greatest friends and helps bolster her love of books, leading her to write her own story. Liesel, by listening to Max, learns more about the world around her and becomes emotionally stronger.

Max also functions as a sort of one-person Hitler resistance fighter. Though he's stuck in a basement throughout the story, he stays resilient against Hitler. In fact, he imagines physically fighting Hitler and continues fighting even though he's being brutally beaten. He has a history of being a fistfighter, but with Liesel, he is very soft and kind. We also see him painting over the pages of Mein Kampf and replacing Hitler's words with his own story. Max's spirit is determined to fight and determined to survive.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the novel, Max Vandenburg is a 22-year-old Jewish man who hides in the Hubermann household. Max is a fighter, through and through, and when we first meet him in the story, he is fighting to survive in hiding. He imagines using his fist fighting skills from childhood to beat down his many oppressors in Nazi Germany. He is also fighting with his own guilt about leaving his family behind and about the danger in which he is putting the people who are hiding him. He even fights Hitler in a way, by painting and writing over the pages of Mein Kampf. Through Max's strength and struggle, Markus Zusak shows the many ways that persecuted people have their lives destroyed and how much they need to fight to keep what little is left to them. He shows that Max retains his fighting spirit even in the face of terrible danger and uncertain odds. 

Max and Liesel's relationship is a critical one in the novel. At first, Max represents a terrifying danger in her life, as Hans explains to her harshly, so she'll understand the magnitude of it, in Chapter 33. On the other hand, Max's presence brings out new sides of the family members, especially Rosa, who Liesel begins to see as caring and even tender. Later, Liesel and Max's relationship begins and develops over their love of books. She sees him with Mein Kampf, a book she has been curious about but never read. When she finally works up the courage to ask him about it, their shared enthusiasm brings them together, as do their recurring nightmares about their family tragedies. Their friendship grows as Max makes Liesel a book for her birthday and she tells him daily about the weather outside. Through these small actions, Liesel and Max help one another survive the horrors of war, using their love and friendship and their appreciation for words and creativity. They develop these traits within one another and come out more resilient for it. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial