Words are very powerful and one of the most common ways we communicate with each other. The novel, The Book Thief, tells a story of a young girl named Liesel, and certain challenges she faces in Nazi Germany in 1939 through the eyes of death. In the way the story is written it is clear that words in both their presence and absence have power. In the novel, words are shown to be powerful because of their negative influence, their sustainability, and how they connect people to one another.
Considering the time period in which this novel takes place, hateful sentiments are often used to negatively influence people. A group of people who are specifically targeted in the book is Jewish people. In this time “Jewry … was a label” (Zusak 216). Jewish people are also labelled with hateful slurs which are painted on their shops and homes. These labels were powerful enough to dehumanize the Jewish population which, in turn, negatively impacted their way of life. Hans is also negatively affected by these slurs when he puts himself at risk when he paints over them. Death explains the site, “In sloppy lettering, the words JEWISH FILTH were spilling over at their edges” (347). When Hans paints over this hateful slur, he puts himself in danger from receiving backlash from Nazi authorities.
From this small act of kindness towards a Jewish person, Hans could have been taken away from his family and put in jail. By people not being able to express how they feel in their actions or words, it in a way, imprisons them in their own country. Hans Hubermann is only ever harsh to Liesel a very small amount of times in the book, one of which being when Lisel expresses how she truly feels about their country’s leader. After leaving the book burning Liesel says “I hate the Fuhrer” (115). Hans knows that if anyone who supports Hitler heard her words, she would be put in danger. If people cannot express how they truly feel, especially towards their countries leader, that leader can use their lack of words as consent even if they might not agree with what he is doing. Some people think actions are negative but in The Book Thief, words are what negatively influence the lives of others.
Words can sustain people through tough and stressful times. When Max becomes ill, Liesel reads to him regularly. Death states, “The words alone could nourish him” (328). Even though Liesel is trying to help Max get better by reading him the book, it ended up helping Liesel more by giving her some relief through this difficult time. Even after Max recovers he has to stay in the Hubermanns basment. The only way he gets a taste for the outdoors is through Liesels weather reports which sustain him largely. After getting home from school, Liesel tells max her report, “The sky is blue today … and there is a big long cloud and it’s stretched out like a rope” (249). Liesel’s weather reports help to nourish Max’s need for outside. The reports, in a sense, keep Max from going insane. Inthe air-raid shelter when the whole neighborhood is scared for their lives, Liesel reads to them. Death describes the situation “… soon a quietness started bleeding through the crowded basement. By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel… the youngest kids were soothed by her voice” (381). Through Liesels words she is able to sustain everyone in the air-raid shelter. She was able to keep everyone calm in this stressful situation. Through Liesel’s love of words, she was able to help sustain not only herself but others as well.
Liesel connects and bonds with many people through words throughout the book. When Liddell first arrives at Hans and Rosa house she had clearly not been given a proper education.This is when Hans decides to help her improve her reading skills. Death says, “She was clearly proud of Hans Hubbermann’s part in her education” (64). This signifies that Liesel has clearly created a bond with Hand and has pride in him because of words. If they hadn’t read and learned together, they would not have grown closer. Words are also powerful enough to connect Liesel and Max. This is demonstrated when Max said, “As time passed by the girl and I realized we had things in common” (231). When Liesel and Max first met they didn’t know what to think of each other. However, the love of books is what brought them together.
Ilsa Hermann and Liesel also bond through words as well. After Ilsa allowed Liesel to stay a few minutes each day in her library and read, she decides to open up to Lisel about her dead son which is something that she doesn’t like to talk about. Ilsa tells Liesel “The woman’s face did not alter, yet somehow she managed to speak. ‘he is nothing now in this world,’ she explained. ‘He was my…apart from everything else’ she said, ‘he froze to death.’ For a moment, she played with her hand, and she said it again. ‘He froze to death, I’m sure if it’” (146). Ilsa clearly felt connected to Liesel or she never would have shared that personal story with her. Without Ilsa’s books, Liesel and her never would have bonded. Without Liesel having an interest in words, she wouldn’t have had a strong connection to others throughout the book.
In, The Book Thief, By Markus Zusak, words are portrayed as powerful through their negativity, sustainability, and how they connect people. The power of words is shown many times throughout the novel. It is portrayed by the hateful sentiments of the citizens of Germany. It is shown by how words sustain people. As well as through the connections Liesel made with certain people. Words are extremely powerful and it seems a higher power was aware of that. Humans are given two eyes, two ears, two legs, two feet, two nostrils, and two hands, but only one mouth, it is safe to say that’s not a coincidence. Nowadays, the power of words is shown through social media, which can either be a tool of positive enhancement or a defensive weapon of destructive judgement. It’s people who decide in what way to use this power.