Representation of the Power of Words in The Book Thief

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Words are one of the most powerful ways people communicate with each other, and they have a powerful impact on how everyone interprets things. They have an impact on how someone feels, and how they make other people feel as well. In ​The Book Thief​ by Markus Zusak, the impact of words and language is felt throughout the novel. From the negative propaganda and how people felt towards the Jews in Nazi Germany to the reassuring effect of Liesel ́s reading in the bomb shelter. Words have both a positive and negative influence on the major characters. Within the story and in the way the story is written, Zusak promotes that words, both their presence and absence have power.

One way the power of words showed throughout ​The Book Thief ​is when they create bonds within the characters of the story. When Liesel arrives at her new foster home, she is forced to live with an unknown family. From losing her brother on the way there, and having to leave her mother, she is very uncomfortable in the new environment. This is a hard time for Liesel, but the power of words changed her feelings about the situation. The change in her feelings is brought along when Hans Hubermann starts teaching her the alphabet every night. The alphabet that she learns has the power to create a bond between her and her stepfather. ̈Over the next few weeks and into summer, the midnight class began at the end of each nightmare. There were two more bed-wetting occurrences, but Hans Hubermann merely repeated his previous cleanup heroics and got down to the task of reading, sketching, and reciting ̈(Zusak,69). This shows that when Liesel is at her worst time, Hans is always there to help her. He helps her by being there and distracting her by teaching her the alphabet. She uses the alphabet to distract her from thinking about her brother. Hans is always by her side and teaches her, which creates their first bond. By this, Liesel finally is starting to feel like that place is home. Another example of how words create bonds is when Max moves into the Hubermanns basement. Max is a young Jewish man hiding from the Nazi forces, and is under a lot of pressure. During this negative time in his life, Liesel reads stories to Max. The words in the stories form a bond between Liesel and him. ̈... 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 ̈(Zusak,334). This shows that Liesel would never give up on having Max hear her stories. She was trying to save him from his sickness by the power of the words she was reading. ̈They became good friends, and when the man was sick, the words shaker allowed a single teardrop to fall on his face. The tear was made of friendship-a single word-and it dried and became a seed ̈(Zusak, 446). This symbolises a word having power to start a friendship between Max and Liesel, and eventually also having the power to make a stronger bond in the friendship. The last example showing that words have a power to create bonds is when Liesel reads to the people in the bomb shelter. ̈When she turned to page two, it was Rudy who noticed....he tapped his brother and sister....Hans Hubermann came close and called out, and soon, a quietness started bleeding through the crowded basement. By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel ̈(Zusak,381). Everyone in the shelter is paying attention to Liesel. This direct attention creates a bond between all the neighbors in the shelter. The neighbors pay attention to Liesel, and Liesel pays attention to her audience through the stories she reads. This bond was created by the power of words, but the power of words also comforts all those in the shelter. In ​The Book Thief, the alphabet lesson, the reading of the stories by Liesel and Max, and the reading of stories to her neighbors are all examples of the power of words bonding characters and conveying Zusak ́s belief in the importance of family bonds and relationships.

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The power of words in ​The Book Thief i​ s not always presented as a positive thing, but as a negative thing as well. From the novel being in Nazi Germany there are a lot of negative ways the power of words can be used during this time period. Hitler uses words and not guns, money, or some other instrument to take over the world. “The book thief was dreaming about the Fuhrer....she was attending a rally at which he spoke ̈(Zusak,20). This proves that he captivates people with the words he uses. ̈She was listening contentedly to the torrent of words spilling from his mouth. His sentences glowed in the light”(Zusak,20). This proves that words were the only thing he had to become powerful and to continue ruling the country. He uses propaganda to reel people to do what he wants them to do. During the time Hilter was in charge, he made people not like the Jews, and they would call them bad names to their face. They would write words on the Jews houses, or their place of work. “...slurs written on a Jewish shop front”(Zusak,104). This proves that people would write bad names on Jewish shops just because they didn’t like them. This is using the power of words in a negative way. In ​The Book Thief,​ the setting is set in the Nazi Germany time, and this time period shows a lot of ways the power of words can be negative, like controling people with the power of words.

The ability of words to hurt and to heal is a very important idea in the book. Liesel, on one occasion, injures someone with the words she uses. In her anger, after Ilsa Hermann tells her they will no longer employ Rosa to do the washing. Liesel got very upset about this and started calling Ilsa pathetic because she can not cope with her son’s death. Liesel then starts to become “spiteful” and discovers the “brutality of words”(Zusak,262). This proves that she uses the power of words to hurt another human being. In the end, she realizes that words can be mean. Liesel then learns from Ilsa not to punish herself for remaining while the people in her life are taken. She heals herself by writing about her life, her brother, Max, and her time on Himmel street. This is the only way she was able to save herself. The power of words has a way to heal someone. In The Book Thief​ and even real life, the power of words are able to heal and save people for the better.

Creating bonds, controlling people with words, and the ability to hurt and heal are all examples of the power of words. They can be both positive and negative ways of using it. When Hans taught Liesel the alphabet, those words created the bond between them, and that is one of the many positive ways someone could use the power of words. The power of words is able to heal and save someone is also another way they can be a positive thing. When Liesel was writing in her basement, and when the bombs went off, she survived because of the power of words. One negative way is when Hilter uses the power of words to control people to do what he wants them to do. A big thing during that time period is using the words to hurt other human beings. The message ​The Book Thief ​wants the readers to take from it is to spread kindness to others, and the main thing is the words people use in their daily life. The power of words should use the power to make everyone happy in a positive way

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