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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

So Many Books, So Little Time

Yeah, we know. We're Lit nerds—huge, unabashedly enthusiastic bibliophiles. We'd wear "old book" perfume if they made it. (Million dollar idea!) We have more book totes than our closets can hold. Our idea of a great vacation is flying thousands of miles to go to beautiful, tropical... libraries.

But even the most reading averse can see how books are useful. And good. And mind-expanding. And not kindling.

Much of the novel's symbolism derives from the books it features. Check out Liesel's "Character Analysis" for lots of discussion on how these books comment symbolically on Liesel, and how book stealing functions as a symbol of resistance against the Nazi regime. Sure, it's theft (not usually good), but in this case it's also rebellion. And that's something to be proud of:

The book thief has struck for the first time – the beginning of an illustrious career. (5.119)

The book burning scene is important to Liesel, but symbolically, it goes beyond her story. First of all, it's a symbol of the countless other book burning in Nazi Germany. It's a bit of a reduction to call these events "book burnings." As the novel indicates, it's not only books being burned, but also art, pamphlets, anything authored by a Jew, or which speaks favorably about Jewish people.

These burnings don't target a single author, or even a single idea, but the collective body of creative and intellectual work of a large group of people. This goes beyond censorship or protest, and it goes beyond books. For the Nazis, Jewish books symbolize Jewish people. The destruction of these books symbolized one of their goals: the destruction of the Jewish people.

One of the most horrific institutions of the Holocaust were crematoria, or chambers where the bodies of Jewish people were incinerated. The book burning in the novel reminds us of those crematoria... and also reminds us that Nazi propaganda techniques included destroying information, as well as spreading it.

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