The Book Thief Quotes

Three of the most prominent themes quoted in ‘The Book Thief’ are Mortality, the Hardship of the Jews, and Destruction. They are intertwined throughout the book with all the events happening.

Throughout the novel the narrator, Death, battles in his mind due to confusion he saw in human beings. At one time, he will see them as kind and loving, yet at other times, he sees them shows acts of cruelty. Below are 8 critical quotes and how they play into the larger themes of The Book Thief.

The Book Thief Quotes


Destruction

I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.

This is a quote from the book when Death makes an observation towards the end of part two. It happened right before the bonfire of banned books was lit as part of the celebration of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. The quote shows Death struggling to understand why human beings rush to destroy things forgetting that it is easier to destroy than to build. 

The crowd’s feverish desire to burn books and other things is terrible and Death notes that it is human nature to destroy things. Another notable thing here is that this quote foreshadows the coming destruction that will sweep through Europe due to the second world war. Death is suggesting with this quote that the war arose out of the same desire that makes people cherish the destruction of sandcastles, cars, and books. 

Two weeks to change the world, fourteen days to destroy it.

Death implies that this desire is lesser when it stays on the scale of sandcastles and houses of cards. But people are not satisfied with little destruction and so they move the scale higher. They move it up to higher, more harmful destructions and burnings. Therefore, it is the escalation that brings trouble, and in the book that the escalation clearly indicates the coming war. 

Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would smile at the beauty of destruction.

Another example of a quote that shows how sardonic Death feels about the destruction being done by humans. Truly, Death is mocking humanity and its appetite for destruction with these quotes.

Hardship of Jews

You could argue that Liesel Meminger had it easy. She did have it easy compared to Max Vandenburg. Certainly, her brother had practically died in her arms. Her mother abandoned her. But anything was better than being a Jew.

This quote can be seen towards the end of part three. It occurred immediately after Max had made his successful escape from Stuttgart to Molching, using false papers and a copy of MKPF. This is the point that the Jewish perspective began to emerge and Max became a significant character in the book. The quote is showing that being a Jew is a worse fate than any other. It puts the place and the concerns of the main characters into a wider perspective.

This quote compares the hardship that characters like Liesel and Hans may have, to be a Jew at that time in Germany, and posits that their lives were much safer and easier than those of many others during this period.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.

The narrator Death reminds the reader that their pity for Liesel should be lessened when you remember that she is not the only one suffering under Hitler. In fact many people suffered a great deal, some (the Jews) even more. Even though Liesel lost her family, many Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe have lost so much more.

Mortality

The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.

This quote can be seen when Liesel and Rudy find the enemy fighter pilot in his crashed plane and Rudy gives the pilot the teddy bear as he dies towards the end of part nine. Previously Death has seemed human because of his personality and the way he sympathizes with the people in his story he seems, but with this quote, he establishes himself as a being different from human beings.

It kills me sometimes, how people die.

 He talks about people being mortal, positing that the human heart is a “line, with a beginning and end, whereas his heart is just a circle. This means he has no beginning or end but rather is immortal. He also suggests that his position outside mortal humanity helps with a better perspective on life than other people. This perspective allows him to see things more objectively than others and see people more than they can see themselves.

This position also leaves him confused because he cannot understand why people can be equally good and evil. This way the quotes speaks directly to two of the main themes of the book: the dualities of Nazi-era Germany and the extreme kindness and cruelty that people are able to have.

In essence, the quote comes near the end of the book, and we can see throughout the book that indeed Death, the narrator has seen both the best and worst of humanity. Having Death as the narrator makes us see our mortality in a more real sense. We know that death is constant for all humans but this book brings it home. At a point, Death talks about how he is always overestimating humans and sometimes underestimating them, stating that he can’t correctly guess what they can do.

I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.


FAQs

Why should students read The Book Thief?

Students will find the novel, The Book Thief an interesting one because it uses the appeals of freedom, children, and history to grab the reader’s attention. The main protagonist of the novel is a teenager, an orphan girl called Liesel and this instantly draws students to her. The author describes children as cute and innocent and cute with a hidden fire inside of them to do bigger and better things.

Is The Book Thief An epistolary?

An epistolary is a literary work relating to the writing of letters. The Book Thief is a coming-of-age novel, so tracing the character development of Liesel is practically a requirement. Teenagers and youth like writing letters either to themselves or their friends. In the book, there are several instances of epistolary content in the novel example letters, illustrated stories from Max, etc.

How is Death personified in The Book Thief?

In The Book Thief, Death is given human characteristics. A good example is found when Rudy dies, death is described as ‘taking’ him. Another example is when the narrator, Death, expressed sadness that Rudy has died at such a young age. Death even showed some compassion towards the end when he finally says, ‘Even Death has a heart’.

What is the ending of The Book Thief?

The final scene of the novel, The Book Thief is when Death spoke about Liesel’s life and her death at the age of 90. Death mentioned her family viz, her husband, children, and grandchildren, and talked of her modern-day Manhattan Upper East Side apartment. In her house are pictures of her past and a portrait of her younger self.

What does The Book Thief teach us?

The novel The Book Thief is an interesting one where we can learn a lot of things. The protagonist, Liesel, learned how to read and write, then created stories with Max on the pages of Mein Kampf. In the same way, we can learn that words have power and so we should use them well.

About Ugo Juliet
Ugo Juliet is a passionate lover of books. For over 10 years, she has written books and articles for various organizations. She continues with her passion for literature as an expert analyst on Book Analysis.

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