Blog for Ms. Ross's Classes

Motifs in The Book Thief

Definition of Motif from Dictionary.comYou should be at least halfway through the book by now. At this point, what do you feel is a strong motif in the story? Explain what it is, and give examples. And, if you can, make connections to other stories with a similar motif: How is it dealt with similarly or differently? Which makes a stronger impact on the reader? Which comes across more realitistic? etc.

You can have the same motif as someone else, but be sure to give new examples.

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33 responses

  1. Jake Kang

    There are several motifs in this book, but for my opinion, I think the color is the strongest motif in this novel. For example, at the very beginning of the story, the death says that he “likes a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate.” Also, Hubermann’s eyes are described as being made of “silver.” In addition, it is repeated that Rudy Steiner has “lemon coloured hair.” Colors are used a lot in this novel, and each of them has their individual meanings. Many books have motif of color, and “Harry Potter” is one of the examples. Since it is a long novel, it contains numerous motifs of color, and obviously, they have their individual meanings. For example, red is often seen as a symbol for both sacrifice and violent passion. Violent emotions have come to be associated with red even in everyday usage. “Harry Potter” is very unrealistic story whereas the “Book Thief” somehow is realistic. Thus, for me, the color motifs in the “Book Thief” has stronger impact beacuse it is more realistic and I can feel that motif with my heart.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:58 am

  2. Invicktion

    I think that a reacurring theme in the book thief is the value of literature. Throughout the novel Liesel trys to escape the world by reading. Books are mentioned in almost every single chapter. Hans tought liesel how to read by going over the grave diggers handbook, max possibly went unoticed on the train because of mein kamp, liesel read books at the mayers house. This book truly deminstrates that literature is an important part of society.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

  3. Alice L

    I think literature is an important motif in the story. The author shows that words can influence people in both a good and a bad way. For example, reading books help Liesel cope her grief of losing her brother and mother, and help her move forward in life. Books also help Max and Liesel become good friends. On the other hand, words can also be a bad thing. When Liesel insults Ilsa Hermann, the author illustrates that Ilsa is severely wound, with cuts and blood all over her. This shows words can be very strong and can hurt someone. I think words are very powerful and can change someone’s life.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

  4. JohnL

    I think crime is the strongest motif in the story. Crime related scenes lingers throughout the story.

    For example, Liesel’s brother was punished to death due to the fact that he is an advocate of communism. Another example, Rudy has been harshly disciplined by the members of Hitler Youth which influenced him to commit crimes of his own. Last example, Walter secreted his best friend Max’s existence from the NAZIs.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm

  5. tina huang

    I thinl the color is a strong motif in the novel.For instance,at the begining of the story, the narrator said he saw the book thief three times. Each time was with different color. First color was white,”the whole globe was dressed in snow.(Pg6) “The mother, the girl, and the corpse remained stubborn and silent” It was the first time that narrator saw Liesel.

    Next color was a signature black, a plane crushed(war time) and the narrator saw the book thief,again.”the book thief arrived perhaps thirty seconds later.”

    Third color was red. The bombs destroyed everything and people. The red sky looked like the blood existed everywhere in that place.”I was just about to leave when I found her kneeling there.”(pg13) It was the last time that narrator saw Liesl.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  6. Joanna C

    I believe that the motif of this novel is the power of words. From the very beginning, Liesel had felt that book could give her the connection between her mom and brother. Further on, she had learned that reading can give her strength and “an innate sense of power (page 147)”. While Hitler used the power of words in speeches to persuade all the Germans into his ideology, Liesel found the power of having a voice through words. Hans teached Liesel how to read, the mayor’s wife allowed her into the library and Max also wrote her books. She had never thought that she was capable of hurting someone with “the brutality of words (page 262)”. As the title of this book has suggested, the central motif of “books” is recurring throughout this novel.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm

  7. Alexander M

    I think a motif in the story is death, death is the narrator and he mentions a lot about people dieing. Also people trying to survive as well. And World War 2 had a lot of casualties. and as you read on, death talks about the battle field and prison camps. How he gets tired of collecting souls.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

  8. Ray L

    There are many motifs in the novel, but the one that reoccurs the most is death. The narrator is death and mentions it at the very beginning to warn us about an event that is going to happen later in the novel. Death would then be mentioned in every part or chapter especially in Liesel and Max’s nightmares. The narrator also gives us a visual about himself in the bolded words and diaries. Death is following every character. As he is following, he is internally wanting them to falter. In addition, WWII is the the background of the story which shows more of death’s presence.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm

  9. toml

    I agree with all of the comments people have written above.
    I agree with their opinion and their observation.
    I understand there are several motifs throughout the novel and also different perspective towards similar topics.

    In which Zusak inserted into Liesel’s life, presented by Death, her life’s story bears great message and awareness of the Nazi Germany Era. Yet, I wanted to point out other motifs in the story, in which has nothing to do with Liesel’s life.

    I will be talking about the historical facts lying within the novel. Zusak or Death mention those facts for reasons, as “***SOME FACTS ABOUT STALINGRAD*** 1. In 1942 and early ’43, in that city, the sky was bleached bed sheet-white each morning. 2. all day long, as I carried the souls across it … 4. And that was when the fighting was only during the day. ”

    Clearly, Stalin existed, and so was July 17, 1942 the Battle of Stalingrad.
    And that was history, and we learn them to avoid them.

    So literally,

    When we were taught to know what had happened in the past, we always look at important figures, important events, important groups, ideas, and movements. History is so broad that it obtains unlimited wisdom. Learning about history is important because “History” is live examples of successes, glories, or disasters. By knowing a bit about what has happened in our world, we can help to see why things are the way they are, and to predict what will happen in the future or what should not happen in the future.

    Human minds work, absorb, and generate facts, information, and ideas. We used live example of the past to create new era, and that is natural evolution.

    In conclusion, the way how I interoperate the tragic events and the novel is that, indirectly, the motif is to educate readers with facts and the truth by hidden bits of information and imagination within the novel.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm

  10. cooky

    I think Death, dying is one of the motifs. The theme of death is at the forefront of the novel. First of all, the narrator is Death itself (who experiences difficulties with the sheer amount of brutality). World War II is also in the background, which denotes that death is all around Liesel. The sources of all of Liesel’s and Max’s nightmares are the deaths of their family members.
    Also,Friendship.Much of the plot revolves around Liesel’s relationship with Rudy Steiner, which borders on romantic. Hans’ loyalty to Max’s father leads to hiding Max in the basement, which creates the deep bond between Liesel and Max.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm

  11. AndyL

    To me the motif of the novel, Thief Book, is friendship. Or at least that is what I think throughout the advanture that I’ve been going through within the book. Of course, Death, WWII, Colour, Crime, Words, and etc. also take a huge part in the story.

    However, my personal opinion and favorite one is, Friendship. Throughout the story, Liesel starts out with nearly zero friend and have since then been along until she arrived at Himmel Street where she meets great people who encourage her, who inspire her, and those who love her.

    As story goes on, she opens up herself to the society, she grows closer to the community and, she begins to love them. But friendship doesn’t always last forever as, Death, predicts that Everyone will die.

    Things start to fall the same time as readers begin to feel sad, horror, and touched, wondering why must such things happen, questioning human rights. And that is all because the readers care. Readers care because we’ve grown to be friends with the characters within the story. We don’t want them to die. We want to watch them to go on and live a happy life because we love seeing their secrets.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

  12. AndyL

    Ahh I just found out I misspelt the name of the book…. Book Thief*

    March 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm

  13. Ben LAskoski

    I think that the motif in The Book Thief is colour, but more specifically, the colour grey. The colour is mentioned again and again throughout the book and I believe that this is purposefully done. Zusak uses his imagery to entice the reader. When he uses grey to describe so many things it adds to the imagery and mood that is being created. I think that grey is so commonly used because thats what it was like in Germany back then. Not so much the scenery or nature, it was the time. It was a grey time. Grey is a relatively bland and dark colour which can be used to describe emotion. Back during World War II times I think that if people were to choose a colour to describe their emotions, grey would be the common choice.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm

  14. asidhu

    I think a strong motif is the literature. Literature is used throughout the story. Liesel gets many chances to read. She reads with Hans, the mayors wife, max and on her own. Even though Liesel learns to read, it may not be for the better. The books she reads are about Nazis and are very brain washing. The more she finds out about the Nazi party the more she starts to hate Hitler. This behaviour can put her and the Hubbermans in even more danger. Thus literature is a positive and negative motif in the book.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  15. Max Chou

    The story is filled with a sad motif. during the war, people becomes the victim and suffer for it. Under Hitler’s command, not only Jewish has to hide from Nazi party, but also some of the local German. The Nazi party banned too many treasure things. For instance, the freedom of books and conversations.People are all living in fear. It is very sad.

    “IP MAN” is a movie which has a motif of sadness too. When Chinese was under Japanese’s control, Chinese are hit, tortured, raped and killed. This is not fair, but they could do nothing but hide themselvse.

    “The Book Thief” and “IP MAN” are both true story that did exist in the history. The event happend in different time, but had a same problem. When wars begin, the victim are always the citizen.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm

  16. Lester Y

    Totally agree with Vick. Value of literature is the strongest motif throughout the story. Books are mentioned almost every chapter. Begin with the time when Liesel finds the first book of her entire life the grave digger’s handbook, it changes her life and reading becomes the main part of the story. Also many friendships are based on the books and reading. Hans Hubermann and Max Vandenburg are the great examples. Hans becomes very close to Liesel, as he calms Liesel after her nightmares and teaches her to read, starting with the grave digger’s handbook. Max befriends Liesel due to their shared affinity for nightmares and words, and he writes two books for her and presents her with a sketchbook that contains his life story. Once again a friendship begins with books.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

  17. Jenn Pal

    I think the central sort of theme is that of war and the cruelty of humanity. The novel is set during World War Two, and often in mainstream literature, I don’t feel that there are many novels concerning children in Nazi Germany, so this book carefully portrays the most naive and delicate of people; even including Max Vandenburg, which gives a more mature perspective. Himmel Street is the slum of Molching, and I think it represents the chaos happening throughout the rest of Europe, and just the general state that the countries are in. It’s just a callous time, and seeing the divided world through a child’s eyes makes the most complicated occurrences simple but concurrently more damaging.

    March 7, 2011 at 10:41 pm

  18. Keara Bee

    A recurring subject to me is words. Not only in the books that are involved in Liesel’s life but in the way words are used. Liesel uses carefully picked words that only a girl of her age would use to describe life outside the basement for Max. The choice, detail, and intimacy of the words used have a big impact on the tone of the story. Death uses very blunt and descriptive words to get his point and attentive personality across to his readers, especially in his little side note thingies. He has a very distinct choice in words. On a less deep and poetic level, Rosa uses the same 3 words repeatedly and they become almost like a joke within the family (And Rudy). “Saumensch” becomes an ironic petname for Liesel, as well as “Saukerl” for Hans Hubermann.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:13 pm

  19. Kratna

    I think that one of the strongest motifs through out the novel is the power of friendship. There are many friendships through out the novel,but the one that has the greatest impact to me as a reader, is the friendship between the Hubermanns and the family of Max. This relationship is ironic as Germans, during this time period, are known for hating the Jewish people. Yet because of the friendship of Hans and Erik,and the promise that was made, the relationship between Max and Liesel plays a huge part in the novel. It plays a role not only through the plot, but also leads directly to the another motif which is the two faces of humanity,which is clearly represented by the Hubermanns. Another novel in which the motif and importance of friendship was emphasized was “All Quiet on the Western Front” this is a war novel told through the point of view of a soldier. Through out the war all he really has are his friends, and both symbolically and literally, they are the ones who keep him alive as long as is possible. I think that in both novels they have an equally effective way of capturing the reader’s interest, but I think that in “The Book Thief” the irony in the friendship with Max, causes a greater impact, just because it is so unexpected for that time period. In both of the examples I gave, in both novels the motif is realistic as the friendship is literally there, but in “All Quiet” the relationships are common and expected, while in “The Book Thief” the relationship is ironic and uncommon.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:37 pm

  20. C.S.

    In The Book Thief literature is the motif throughout the story. The relationship among Hubermanns, friends and Liesel’s biological family is demonstrated by words. Through the words Liesel, Ilsa and Max continues their life. Liesel first uses ‘The Grave Digger’s Handbook’ to carry the memory of her brother.Ilsa uses The Whistler to endure the absent of her son. Max uses Mein Kampf to save his own life. On the other hand, words can be very harmful if the user choose to. Liesel hurts Ilsa with words that make both off them suffer; Ilsa suffer from the death of her son while Liesel does it from the death of her brother.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:11 am

  21. Curtaaaa!

    A persistent idea in The Book Thief is love. All throughout the story we see hardships, broken hearts, and the will to stick together. Despite Leisel’s rough transition to the Hubermann household, love always manages to find it’s way to keep her together.

    A bit past half the book, we see that Leisel has already emotionally adapted to her new home and allowed herself to take comfort in the acceptance of her new parents: “Mama took her. Her arms swallowed her. ‘I know,’ she said. She knew.” In a country at war, living in a poor neighborhood, love is one of the few things the Hubermanns get for free.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:26 am

  22. Camb

    I believe a common motif so far is guilt. It senna to be an underlining theme throughout the novel. For example, Max feels extreme guilt for leaving behind his family and he struggles to get past that fact. Liesel experiences quite a few moments of guilt, the most recent being when she got a letter from the mayor’s wife yet she was unable to ‘man up’ and apologize. Rosa seems guilty for hiding Max and Hans is guilty for a lot, like Liesel. He feels guilty because he let his friend die in the war and he’s putting his family in danger.

    I know it’s been used in other works but I can’t seem to remember any. Usually the way they fix it is just by realizing either that it wasn’t their fault or they learn from it and live as a better person.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:05 am

  23. Jae Lim

    I found Discrimination as a motif in the story. Very strong racism is shown in the story very often. One culture is superior than another one. For example, in Germany, Jews were treated like rats. In The Book Thief, Max, a Jew, had to hide in Hans’ house and live a life of a rat hiding from the sun lights and coming out at night only. Hence, Discrimination is one of the most revealing motifs the readers can find.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:49 am

  24. Liang W

    I think death and relationship are two strong motifs. Death has been mentioned from the very beginning, “HERE IS A SMALL FACT: You are going to die.” Also, the narrator is Death. Throughout the story, it shows how death influence every charactor’s life. However, without Love or relationship, death wouldn’t be so effective to people. For example, the impact of Erik’s death wouldn’t have changes the life of Hans, if Erik didn’t sacrificed himself to save Hans. Moreover, Hans wouldn’t have risk his life to protect Max without the relationship or connection between them. Every person in the story is indirectly connected. In my opinion, relationship probably is the strongest motif. And because of the relationship between people, the impact of death to everyone is much more effective.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:04 am

  25. lance lu

    I am agree that Death is one of the major motif in the story. The whole book is written in the Death’s ponit of view, and we can see that death is everywhere. For example, Liesel’s younger brother died in the beginning of the story.Later, we saw Death collected millions of souls in the scenes of the world war two.
    I also think that compare the darkness and purity which are both inside human. On page 309,“To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible.” reflects that human who creates the war is cruel cold-blooded and darkness. However, author also describe the purity of Liesel’aspiration for books.Thereby, the sharp contrast make story more interesting

    March 8, 2011 at 4:47 am

  26. daniel S

    One of the strongest motifs in the book “the book thief” is Human suffering and the struggle of life in WW2 this is clear throughout the story from the start death shows us that this era is full of colors as well as The narrator “Death” mentions that war is like a boss that expects the impossible and that at one point he is tired of taking so many peoples souls. This shows how much pity death has and it’s a morbid motif of death surrounding this point in history, this type of motif can also be found in other world war 2 stories.

    March 8, 2011 at 7:01 am

  27. Marissa-jean

    I agree with people who are saying that colors and words are motifs, the way certain words are used in such deep description or the distinct colors that are used. Not just red, yellow or blue. But they tend to be darker colors that make you think about gloomy things.

    March 8, 2011 at 7:01 am

  28. Dalyn M

    As said before words are a large motif in the story. Words whether written or spoken are ways of getting ideas to other people. The Nazis are aware or this thus the book burning,censorship, and rousing speeches. On the other hand Liesel loves to read books and through them she gets an idea of the outside world and not just what the Nazis want her to know.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:17 am

  29. Juan David

    This book has many motifs however one of them stands out over all of them and it is the repeating idea that The German people are not as bad as they were portrayed to be during World War 2, The Hubermman family would even gain the affection of Death itself. The Idea of risking their own life in order to Help a Jew not only makes us as a reader revaluated our opinion on the German people but also put ourselves in their shoes, and how would we react, It also gives us a point of view from a child who had suffered from the beginning and still looks at life appreciating the simple things.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

  30. Katelynd

    As what many other people have mentioned one of the main motifs would have to be literature. Liesle learns at the beginning of the book how important it is to know how to read, it teaches her the value of having a voice. Words hold the people under Hitlers power and the Nazi party. If Hitler wasn’t passionate about his speeches and words people would not be intrigued by him or his party. The theme is recurring in the sense that Hans teaches Liesle to read, the mayor’s wife lets Liesle into her house to read all the books she has, and that Hans makes two books that he gives to Liesle. Also reading is a way for Liesle to escape from the stress of the real world.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

  31. David Jiang

    I believe the strongest motif in the story, “The Book Thief”, are Books. first, books in the story, especially for Liesel, is life changing. For her, each book she obtained had its unique meaning. For intense, “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” means the death of her brother and the last time she saw her mother. On the other hand, the book also helped her in learning words. The books assisted Liesel to grow in the story.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm

  32. k lofter

    I think that one of the most recurring themes of “The Book Thief” is the power of words. Examples of this can be found throughout the entire book. Hans’ ability to write words saves his life in WWI. By teaching Liesel to read, she and Hans bond. The ability to read the grave digger’s handbook gives Liesel a sense of closure with her brother. Hitler gains power of the people of Germany with his words and the content of his book. The Nazi party attempts to destroy books for the sake of ignorance. Ilsa allows Liesel to read in her library. Liesel unleashes her anger upon Ilsa with her words. Rudy tries to win Liesel’s heart by jumping into a freezing river to retrieve her book. There are countless examples of the importance of words and the advantage they can bring strewn throughout “The Book Thief.”

    March 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

  33. Jack Jang

    In my opinion the motif of the Book Theif is colors. Change in color means that something will be happening soon. For example, the color red is the symbol of life and if it change into dark or dull color like gray, someone dies eventually. In the beginning of the story, Liesel’s brother died when the sky’s color changed into gray. I believes that author wants to express the minor but the major idea of emotion change In addition, these visual motif helps readers to understand the novel easily. Therefore the motif in this novel would be the color

    March 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm