Study Guide

The Book Thief Language and Communication

By Markus Zusak

Language and Communication

Chapter 6
Death

In the beginning, it was the profanity that made an immediate impact. It was so vehement and prolific. Every other word was either Saumensch or Saukerl or Arschloch (6.14)

Death explains to us that sau means a pig. Saumensch is an insult for women, Saukerl is an insult for men. Arschloch is "asshole" (6.14). These terms become terms of endearment between the characters as the novel progresses.

Rosa Hubermann

"Saumensch. You call me Mama when you talk to me. (6.32)

At this early stage, though, being called a pig-girl isn't exactly endearing. Liesel soon learns that calling Rosa "Mama" is one big way to stay on her good side.

Chapter 7
Death

Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children. (7.8)

Death tells us that this is a definition that isn't found in the dictionaries. As we see when we get into the Duden Dictionary sections of the novel, it's sometimes hard to find the right words to express what we see and feel.

Chapter 12
Death

The world talked it over. Newspaper headlines reveled in it. The Führer's voice roared from German radios. We will not give up. We will not rest. We will be victorious. Our time has come. (12.6-8)

This refers to Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. We put it under this theme because it points to the importance of communication technology to the Nazis' techniques.

Chapter 19
Death

He slapped Liesel Meminger squarely in the face. (19.23)

This is Hans, in a rare moment of violence. Hans does not hit Liesel in anger, but because he wants to communicate the seriousness of her situation. Saying such a thing within the hearing of the wrong person could mean a death sentence. Hans is also motivated by the knowledge that he'll soon, if things go as planned, be hiding a Jew in his home. In which case, such statements would be doubly risky. Could he have found a way to impress this upon Liesel without violence?

Chapter 31
Max Vandenburg

"When death captures me," the boy vowed, "he will feel my fist in his face." (31.26)

This is young Max communicating his desire to live. This fighting spirit probably has a lot to do with his ultimate survival.

Chapter 33

"If you tell anyone about that man…" (33.51)

Normally, if a grown-up tells a kid to keep a secret, it might ring our alarm bells. But, this is anything but an ordinary situation. Max, Liesel, and the Hubermanns' survival depends on secrecy.

Chapter 38
Death

In the basement of 33 Himmel Street, Max Vandenburg could feel the fists of the entire nation. One by one they climbed into the ring and beat him down. (38.112)

This is how Max perceives the majority of German people. It refers to the fact that the Holocaust could not have been carried out without the consent of the majority of the German population.

Chapter 80
Liesel Meminger

"'Is it really you,' the young man asked […]. Is it from your cheek that I took the seed?'" (80.44)

When Liesel sees Max marching to Dachau she recites passages from The Word Shaker, the book he leaves for her when he flees. This is interesting because Liesel is able to best communicate her feelings to Max using his words. She's also being economical. She has to chose her words for maximum impact, since she might not get to say very many of them. She's acknowledging Max's gift and telling him she understands it.

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