How do analepsis and prolepsis create the timeline in The Book Thief, which begins in medias res?

Quick answer:

The use of either analepsis or prolepsis would be sufficient to create the intradiegetic time in a story that begins in medias res. Authors commonly use both devices to support intradiegesis, as Markus Zusak does in The Book Thief.

Expert Answers

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Analepsis and prolepsis are Greek words. Analepsis is often called “flashback” and prolepsis is likewise called “flash forward.” Intradiegesis or intradiegetic time refers to the situation of a literary work in multiple time periods. “In medias res” is a Latin phrase that means literally “in the middle of things.” It is used in literature to refer to narrative that is not in strict chronological sequence.

An author could use either analepsis or prolepsis to indicate the multiple time periods in which the work is set; it is not necessary to use both. Authors often employ both concepts to show the effects of particular incidents on later developments or to indicate character development.

In a work that begins in medias res, most of the action may still occur within one period. In The Book Thief, the main time period is the World War Two years when Liesel is living with the Hubermans. In this novel, the main time period is not literally the middle of Liesel’s life, as she was then a child, but closer to its beginning. From the use of prolepsis (flash forward) in the narrative, the reader learns that Liesel survived the war—avoided Death’s taking her—and was reunited with Max. Flashbacks are also used to show what her life was like before being separated from her parents and joining the Hubermans’ household.

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