The Book Thief Themes

  • In many ways, The Book Thief is a novel about words: how they captivate readers, introduce people to new concepts, and even manipulate populations, as Hitler's propaganda did in Germany. When Liesel steals her first book at the age of nine, she's illiterate, but words have a strange power over her even then. Books are an important part of her moral and emotional education.
  • The personified figure of Death narrates this novel about life and death during World War II. Young Liesel Meminger, the protagonist of the novel, survives, but her friends and family aren't so lucky. Her brother dies at the beginning of the novel, and his death is followed by those of the millions of Jews killed in the concentration camps. Death proves capricious, both in the victims it claims and the stories it tells.
  • Friendship is another important theme in The Book Thief. Liesel's best friends, Rudy Steiner and Max Vandenburg, provide support, entertainment, and love during the difficult years of the war. With their help, Liesel finds the strength to stand up to bullies and show compassion to the suffering even when it could get her in trouble.


Death is not only the personified narrator of the story; it is also a prevalent theme. Set during World War II, death continuously intersects with many of those that lived in Germany. Millions of Jews died in the concentration camps, German soldiers died fighting for their country, and many innocent German civilians died as a result of the Allied bombings on their cities. Death also personally touches every character in the story. Liesel's brother dies in her arms, and her parents are most likely killed in concentrations camps. Max's entire family is probably killed in those same camps, and he spends a desperate struggle fighting against potential death the entire novel. Neighbors to the Hubermanns have sons, brothers, fathers, and uncles who die in the war, just as the Hubermanns' son is also out fighting for the Nazi cause. Hans has friends in the army who die while fighting with him, and he himself narrowly avoids dying while out on patrols. Death can come at any time, in any number of ways, and is a ruthless and inevitable part of war, and of life.

In The Book Thief, friendship often arises in atypical places; war throws people together who would have never had a chance to get to know one another otherwise. Liesel is led to Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who not only take care of her and love her, but become with her genuine friends. Max also becomes friends with the Hubermanns, and with Liesel, developing ties that are crucial to his survival and enrichment throughout the story. Liesel develops an unlikely friendship with the mayor's wife. Books are a common thread that tie these friends together. Perhaps the most endearing friendship of the novel is that between Rudy and Liesel; they are best pals, and often do risky and daring things for one another. Friendship occurs right in the middle of the chaos and despair of war, and it is friendship that makes the circumstances of living amidst the atrocities...

(The entire section is 760 words.)