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    Demonstration of Power Through Literacy in The Book Thief

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    For each person, the journey is different, and for some it’s what shapes their personality. A journey for some may be smaller and less interesting than others but in the end it is what tells the story of your life. Such as, the friendships that you make and the different schools that you will attend, to name a few. The learning of various things in today’s world allows people to expand their knowledge which they benefit from. The power of learning is crucial in times for so many people, especially through literature. Literature holds the power of releasing information in a certain period of time and gives a sense of good judgement to a community about life. Literature gives us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives, emotions, and most importantly search for ways to connect to the piece of literature so we in return can think deeply about it.

    The question is, does literature really help someone’s journey to shape them? In Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, Liesel begins stealing books, they become symbols of rebellion, a small gesture of defiance against the Nazis. Liesel begins expanding her knowledge about things she never knew before and this helps her in many ways. The death of Liesel’s brother and loss of her mother on her way to meeting Rosa and Hans, forces her to begin a new chapter in her life. The journey begins when she arrives at Himmel Street in Molching where a new life awaits her. For most people when a sudden change happens during a rough time, people will change for both good and bad, and Liesel is no different. There are three main components in Liesel’s emotional journey that will change her significantly; learning about herself, others, and authority. She ends up stealing books to help her explore and learn more about various things which shapes the character she is. Therefore, Liesel’s experiences with books and reading throughout The Book Thief leads her character on a journey that demonstrates the power of learning.

    Liesel Meminger is described in the novel as a strong, caring, smart, warmhearted, girl. Also to mention a great thief of stealing. She loves books so much, she steals them, even before she knows how to read. Her determination and commitment to read as many books as she can is incredible. The Gravedigger’s Handbook, was the first book that Liesel had stolen. Liesel steals the book where her brother has just been buried. It’s her only sentiment of her brother and also of her mother who she never sees again after that day in 1939. For Liesel, the book represents sadness, happiness and feelings of feeling forgotten. It represents the end of one period of time in her life, and what she hopes to be the start of another. The more books Liesel ends up stealing, the more she learns about herself. Learning to read is what allows Liesel to understand the power of Hitler as she quickly begins to realize that he’s the reason why her brother, mother, and father are all dead. In addition, Liesel steals books for two reasons: She becomes a voracious reader, and she views it as an act of subversion.

    Liesel ends up stealing a total of nine books throughout her journey. Throughout the books she steals and reads, Liesel develops from just a girl with very little knowledge to a girl who begins knowing a lot more than she should who truly cares about the voiceless. As time goes on, Liesel breaks into the Mayor’s library to steal books. Books allow her to educate herself and at the same time resist against the Nazi’s, whom burn the books that they do not believe/ agree with. “The best world shakers were the ones who understood the true power of words. They were the ones who could climb the highest. One such word shaker was a small, skinny girl. She was renowned as the best word shaker of her region because she knew how powerless a person could be WITHOUT words. That’s why she could climb higher than anyone else.

    She has desire. She was hungry for them.” (Zusak 407) “Max writes these words in a fable called The Word Shaker, which is clearly described as Liesel.” (Zusak 408) Max recognises everything that Liesel has gone through to learn words as she begins reading when she was ten. Liesel understands the power of words better than others, which gives her more power. In the fable, Liesel’s power over words rebels against Hitlers, however she uses her words for the opposite reason. Although Liesel learns lots about herself, her experiences with stealing books and reading develops her character on a journey that demonstrates the power of learning. As a result of her stealing books from the Mayor, they refuse to use Rosa’s service anymore.

    Liesel forms many friendships throughout the novel but most importantly learns about others. Liesel learns that when her friends and family in her life die, there will always be someone else there for her, which is evident in this novel. Liesel becomes good friends with Rudy who lives down the street from her. They are always eating together, resting together, in trouble together, stealing together, and even rebelling against the local service requirements together.

    Rudy had always thought of Liesel as more than a friend, especially after she had fought the bully on the street. “One day, Liesel,” he said, “you’ll be dying to kiss me.” (Zusak 77) Rudy and Liesel have a friendship like no other and the support that Liesel receives from Rudy is one of a kind. For example, he rescues The Whistler book from the Amper River when it gets thrown in and Liesel is forever grateful. Through reading books she is able to connect even more with Rudy and this helps their special bond grow each and every day. In addition, Liesel not only learns that people die unexpectedly, but they also leave for good and are nowhere to be found. She realizes that there are no guarantees in life so to live each day to the fullest.

    She learns that none of the dark events in life are her fault, more so they just happen with no warning. She understands that when the next unexpected happening takes someone away from her, she will at least be prepared to acknowledge it and accept it. When Liesel loses Mama, Papa, Rudy and all the Steiners, there is a huge void in her life as she takes time to grieve, but she also knows that it isn’t personal. Just like when Hans and Rosa Hubermann picked Liesel up after her mother and brother were gone, Ilsa Hermann picks her up after the Humbermanns deaths. Liesel yet again finds someone to take care of her, a new mother. She is also reunited with Max and is able to spend time with Rudy’s father in his shop. Even though there are times when it seems as if she has no one and her life has turned upside down, there are her friends who step in and help her to fill the emptiness.

    Liesel’s experiences with books and reading allows her to learn about authority. The novel makes it easy to perceive that books hold the power to give information but at the same time, power can be dangerous. This is demonstrated when Liesel reads a book to Max and says, “I’ll read to you. And I’ll slap your face if you start dozing off. I’ll close the book and shake you till you wake up…He sat in bed and absorbed the words.” (Zusak 334) When Max was sick, Liesel used books which helped keep him awake, and it’s what also allowed him to live.

    The power of literature can be the factor that determines someone’s survival. In addition, Liesel also learns about the authority that words have in the novel. Towards the very end of the novel Liesel says, “I have hated words, and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” (Zusak 528) This quote proves that Liesel has seized the concept of the impact that the power of words hold and shows that she would rather use her words for compassionate reasons, rather than harmful ones, so that she can make words “right.” Authority of books and words is connected to everyone’s everyday life because people do not understand how much words can mean to someone and at the same time how much words can hurt someone.

    Through Liesel’s journey with books and reading, her character becomes more developed throughout the book because of the things that she learns along the way. The power of learning through books and reading is what allows Liesel to begin her journey in hopes of something great. The most important lessons that Liesel learns is what shapes her character and takes her on on a journey where we are able to see her learn and grow. Liesel begins learning about herself through the books that she steals. She educates herself about the Holocost and this is what helps her learn why her family ended up dying.

    She then begins learning about others and starts forming friendships. Her friends, Rudy and Max are always by her side and take care of her. Lastly, Liesel learns about authority and how words can hold so much power. Overall, Zusak leaves readers reminding them of the importance of literature in their own lives. He emphasises that literature educates us how to live our best lives. Literature makes the reader visit places we wouldn’t have, experience a variety of events, meet new people who become friends and so much more. He wants to encourage us to use literature because the power of books and reading is not only something that can change your life, but most importantly it will help shape the person you are and the journey that you create.

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