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The Book Thief: Guilt
Transcript of The Book Thief: Guilt
The Book Thief: Guilt
Maggie Mugford, Catherine Daviau, Keegan Mackenzie, and Riley Scott
Guilt- the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty. (Marriam Webster Dictionary)
We will be discussing how guilt is a prominent theme in The Book Thief.
Guilt affects everyone at some point in their life.
Michael Holtzapfel's guilt of living tore him apart internally: "Michael Holtzapfel was worn down not by his damaged hand or any other injury, but by the guilt of living" (503). The phrase "worn down" usually signifies physical pain, but in this instance, his mind was exhausted by guilt. "Another human pendulum. Another clock, stopped." (502). 'Human pendulum' signifies how a person's life is constantly swinging, in jeopardy. Max's life 'clock' stopped ticking when he committed suicide. The reader can now understand the high level of guilt Michael felt because he and his brother, Robert, both went to war, but Robert died and Michael survived the battle of Stalingrad. He couldn't stand to see how his brother's death affected his mother terribly. It seems that he wished that he had died in battle, as well.
One aspect of Liesels guilt comes from how she feels like a burden living with the Hubermann's:
"You must get an allowance for the girl..." She berated Liesel's naked chest as she scrubbed away. "You're not worth that much saumensch. You're not making me rich you know" (92). Liesel may feel as though she is unwanted in the household and that she impoverishes mama and papa, although she knows she is still well loved.
Max had been the reason for guilt felt by himself, others, and especially Hans: "I am stupid, and kind. Which makes me the biggest idiot in the world" (402). Hans stated that he was "the biggest idiot in the world" after he and Max decided it would be best he moved out so nobody else would be put in danger. Hans feels huge amounts of guilt because after Max leaves not a single Nazi comes by, leaving Hans looking for a reason why Max had to leave. Hans knows he did what he felt he had to do to keep his family safe, but he soon after questions the decision he made.
Hans carried guilt on his shoulders throughout The Book Thief. The main cause of his guilt occurred during the First World War: "Hubermann, sir." "The voice belonged to Erik Vandenburg. He obviously thought that today wasn't the appropriate time for his friend to die" (177). Someone from Hans's unit had to write letters, while everyone else went in to battle. If a man volunteered himself, it would be considered a cowardly act. However, it would be ideal for someone to volunteer a friend. Erik selflessly said, "Hubermann, sir," knowing for a fact that his friend would live but he may not. Sadly, Erik died. Hans felt as though he was forever in Erik's debt for saving his life, so he told Erik's widow that he would do whatever possible to help her and her family. That statement led to Hans hiding Max.
Instead of living an unhappy life, Hans was an overall cheerful and nice man, and he handled his guilt by helping others. He was a foster parent to Liesel, going above and beyond to ensure she was happy. For example, he learned to read while she learned to read. He traded his cigarettes in order for Liesel to have books: "Eight cigarettes per book" (90). Also, Hans painted neighborhood houses without receiving much in return, along with painting over racist slurs on buildings.
Similarly to Hans, Ilsa suffers daily with the guilt associated with the death of a loved one. "He froze to death, I'm sure of it" (146). Ilsa's son "froze to death", which is an extremely harsh, uncommon cause of death. The reader must have an emotional connection with Ilsa, because losing a child is a huge blow to the heart, but it must have been an even worse loss if Ilsa feels she is responsible for her son's death in some way. Perhaps she didn't make sure that her son wore enough clothes during a very cold period outside, or she let him wander off, he got lost and consequently died. It may not have been her fault her all, but Ilsa feels the need to punish herself: "She could have shot herself, scratched herself, or indulged in other forms of self-mutilation, but she chose what she thought was the weakest option- to at least endure the discomfort of the weather" (146). Reminding herself everyday of what her son suffered before he died, Ilsa punishes herself by suffering through terrible weather conditions herself.
Max and his Family.
Max's extreme feelings of guilt and regret recur because he left his family, knowing that he had a greater chance of surviving the war than they did: "If only he'd turned for one last look at his family as he left the apartment. Perhaps then the guilt would not have been so heavy. No final goodbye. No final grip of the eyes. Nothing but goneness" (194). The manner in which Max left his family was very rushed, during a time of chaos. He didn't even have "one last look" at his family before departing to save himself. He felt grateful to live, but he also had other negative feelings: "Living was living. The price was guilt and shame" (208). Max is ashamed that he took the opportunity to live, in his mind leaving his mother and siblings denfenceless against the Nazis and his younger siblings without an older male role model.
We have learned that guilt is a major theme in The Book Thief. Everyone responds to guilt in different measures and it influences the majority of the characters in a significant way, impacting their daily lives. Although guilt is generally a negative thing it can be used as motivation to push you to do positive things, as Hans does by keeping a promise long-ago made to his deceased friend Erik by taking care of his son, Max, in his desperate time of need as he fights to stay alive in a prejudice society.