Discussion Topic

The plot and introductory chapter of The Book Thief

Summary:

The Book Thief begins with Death, the narrator, introducing Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Nazi Germany. Liesel is sent to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, after her brother dies. She steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, at his burial. The story sets the stage for Liesel's journey through war, loss, and her love for books.

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What is the plot of The Book Thief?

Narrated by Death, this is the story of the Nazi regime's effect on characters who live in the fictional town of Molching, Germany, in the early 1940s.

Liesel Meminger is the central focus of the story. When the story opens, she is forced to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Hans shows her great kindness and even teaches her to read, but Liesel's relationship with Rosa is quite strained. Hans sits with Liesel through the nightmares which plague her, and she grows to associate him with safety.

As the Nazis gain power and prominence around Molching, tension increases. Liesel is required to join the Band of German Girls, and her friend and neighbor Rudy is required to join the Hitler Youth. When Molching citizens gather to burn books to celebrate Hitler's birthday, Liesel steals a book from the fire; she does not share feelings of loyalty to Hitler because she recognizes that he is ultimately responsible for the absence of her mother and the death of her brother.

Hans agrees to hide Max Vanderburg, a Jewish man, in the basement of their home to fulfill a debt Hans owed to Max's father. Max fascinates Liesel with the stories he shares with her at night, and she makes great efforts to keep Max in touch with the outside world while he is in hiding.

Air raids begin to present a more imminent threat in daily life, and the family learns that their basement cannot fully protect them from the bombs. Soon, Liesel sees Jews being marched to Dachau and is grieved for their suffering. The family is ripped apart when Hans is sent away to serve in an air raid unit.

In October 1943, Himmel Street, where Liesel lives, is bombed. Although she survives, she must face the death of many people she cared about. Liesel goes on to live a long life, becoming a wife, a mother, and then a grandmother. In the end, Death comes to retrieve Liesel from her life, perplexed by the lightness and darkness in human potential.

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What is the first chapter of The Book Thief about?

The first chapter of The Prologue is titled "Death and Chocolate." This chapter serves as a very brief introduction to the story. In it, we meet the narrator, who is Death himself. He is candid about two things. First, he is candid about the idea of dying, and states plainly that this is the end point for all humans. Second, he is candid about his view of the world, which is always described by a color first. It is as if from this objective perspective, Death can paint a picture of the reality of World War 2 that includes untraditional and arguably beautiful description, despite the fact that his presence means someone has died.

At the end of this short chapter, Death gives the audience a preview of the entire story, depicted as a list. This serves to foreshadow people and events in the story. It also sets the tone for the novel. As a Holocaust story, a typical audience is prepared for a dark and depressing tone. In this opening chapter, a very matter-of-fact tone is set that allows the audience to move forward in the story with a sense of curiosity and hope.

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