In The Book Thief, are analepsis and prolepsis necessary for creating intradiegetic time in a story that begins in medias res?

Quick answer:

When a story begins in media res, analepsus and prolepsys are necessary devices used to create intradiegetic time. This is shown through Max Vanderburg's story in The Book Thief.

Expert Answers

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

The first step to answering your question is to define the terms:

Analepsis is a term used when the narrative of a fictional story moves back in time to before the beginning of the story: a flashback.

Prolepsis is the representation of a thing as existing in a form before it actually does. In narrative, it is a flashforward and usually takes the form of foreshadowing.

The intradiegetic level is understood as the level of the characters in the story. Thus, intradiegetic time is time as it operates for the actual characters as opposed to the narrator.

And lastly, a story that starts in media res (Latin for "in the midst of things") is a story that begins in the middle of the action, with the setup and exposition done later.

Thus, when a story begins in the middle of the action, flashbacks and flashforwards become necessary to create the characters' timeline. A good example of this phenomenon in The Book Thief is the story of Max Vanderburg.

Max Vanderburg is a Jewish fistfighter who hides in the Hubermanns' basement during the height of the Nazi regime. The very first time Max is mentioned in the story, it is as part of a flashforward wherein the narrator informs the readers that the story will be about "a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery" (emphasis added). In a moment of prolepsis, the narrator introduces all the characters of the story, including Max.

The next time he is mentioned is in a flashback where Liesel thinks back to the time that Max "arrived on Himmel Street carrying handfuls of suffering and Hitler's Mein Kampf." Thus Max's story begins in media res with his arrival on Himmel Street. A few chapters later, the narrative jumps to a flashback detailing how Max escaped the Nazis and traveled to Himmel Street. Thus, analepsis is used to establish the backstory to his arrival on Himmel Street. Our narrator announces, "I have Liesel Meminger in one hand, Max Vanderburg in the other. Soon I will clap them together. Just give me a few pages."

As soon as the narrator "clap[s]" Max and Liesel together, another instance of analepsis occurs. Liesel and Max's meeting concludes part 3 of the book. Part 4 begins with another flashback to the youths of Liesel's adoptive father, Hans, and Max's father, Erik Vanderburg, during World War I. This flashback details their connection and further solidifies why Hans would want to help Max by hiding him in his basement.

Max's narrative begins in media res, but it is the flashbacks to his childhood and his father's youth, along with the narrator's flashforwards, that establish his timeline within the novel. His intradiegetic time is a function of the analepsis and prolepsis woven into the narrative.

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