Characterisation in the book thief

In the opening sections of the text the reader learns many things about the main characters.


Lisel is brought into the Novel at the  beginning . We learn about Lisels situation when she is on the train with her mother and brother, when her brother passes away. She seems to have no fears at the start as they go along she sings a german song. She is devastated when she realises her brother has died and shows her unstability as she is now alone arriving at her foster parents. We can understand that she is mentally strong because she doesn’t break down and start crying when meeting her foster parents and leaving her mother. We also know she is resilient as she doesn’t want to leave the car to go inside. Lisel is undernourished on her arrival as the writer states she has “wire like shins”  We know that Lisel and her family are fearful of the war as they are having to leave there home and flee somewhere else. As a reader we learn that Lisel has decided to be a strong young women because she is forced to leave her mother and her brother dies but she goes with her foster parents. She doesn’t understand fully why her mother is making her leave which makes her think her mother doesn’t love her any more. She is 9 years old. When her brother dies she steals a book that is dropped near his grave. Lisel has never learnt to read which makes her very frustrated.  Lisel likes to be competitive as she meets Rudy her best friend and does lots of running races against him. I believe that all of these were included by the writer as he is trying to explain Lisels resilience to horrible events through a thorough description. She is a strong person and this is developed at the start of the novel to help the reader to understand her personality of a independent women. This helps set the scene in what is to come as we know that Lisel has already learnt to cope with tough sistuations.


Hans is a middle aged man who lives with his bossy wife Rosa. From the beginning of the text we know that he is kind natured as when Lisel arrives she is scared to get out of the car. Rosa is yelling at her to get out but Hans goes over and gives Lisel his hand coaxing her out of the car. He teaches Lisel many things including how to read and roll a cigar. Hans was a painter by trade and plays the piano accordion. Hand loves to play his accordion as he is very good at it he does some busking on the streets to make money. The writer describes Hans as barley visible. His eyes are described or being made of kindness. He is very kind continually helping Lisel as he is super friendly. He reads a story to Lisel doing his best which again helps the reader he does a lot to please. Hans even comforts Lisel every night that she has bad dreams and falls asleep in the chair in the corner of his room. Throughout the text we can understand that Hans will put the people he loves  before himself as he is so loyal and kind. Hans is Liesel’s foster father, her Papa. He is a very tall man who walks upright and has silver eyes. His quiet, gentle nature is what wins Liesel over, and Death tells us that he is the one Liesel loves most. Hans doesn’t agree with the acts of the Nazi Party, but applies for membership to keep up the appearance of loyalty so that he can protect his family. Hans doesn’t like the Nazi party as he had a best friend who was a Jew. This shapes his opinion against the party which makes some people not like him. The writer includes this as it helps us to understand Hans acceptance of everyone.


Rosa Hubermann is Liesel’s foster mother, her Mama and She is married to Hans Hubermann. She is a squat woman with a rough exterior, who calls Liesel a Saumensch, a female swine, and Hans a Saukerl, the male equivalent. . She does the washing and ironing for many of Molching’s wealthy inhabitants. Rosa often insults both Liesel and Hans for their uselessness around the house. When Liesel disobeys or upsets Rosa, Rosa is quick to give her a beating. Death, however, tells us that Rosa, surprisingly, has a very big heart, and does, in fact, deeply loves both Hans and Liesel. She is also known to be able to straighten all of the children that she has adopted out of their rambunctious behavior. The story reveals through her treatment of Liesel and willingness to take in Max, however, that beneath her tough exterior she is in fact kind and caring. “Saumensch. You call me Mama when you talk to me.”


Rudy is one of six children and Liesel’s best friend. He starts off in the novel as a ten-year-old boy with “bony legs, sharp teeth, gangly blue eyes, and hair the color of a lemon”.  He is known for painting himself black like Jesse Owens after the 1936 Olympics and running the track at Hubert Oval. Rudy identifies with Owens because of the shared love of athletics, which cuts across racial, ethnic, and religious lines, and other lines of difference. For Rudy, difference is not something to be feared or eradicated. Although there’s a war going on, his main interest is usually soccer or winning races He is in love with Liesel and is constantly trying to get her to kiss him. He clearly cares about her, and he often sticks by her side and tries to protect her if necessary. When Viktor Chemmel begins berating Liesel, Rudy tells him to leave her alone, and when Viktor tosses Liesel’s book in the river, Rudy doesn’t hesitate to dive in after it. Rudy is a good student and a great athlete and often sticks up for Liesel, protecting her . Together, they steal apples and potatoes, as well as books from the mayor’s house. He calls Liesel a Saumensch just like Rosa Hubermann does. Liesel calls him a Saukerl, just like Rosa calls Hans.


Max Vandenburg is the Jewish man who hides in the Hubermanns’ basement. At first site, Max is seen as weak and helpless. His father saved Hans’s life during World War I, and later Hans tries to save Max’s life, which puts the Hubermanns’ lives in great danger. In many ways, Max and Liesel are similar. They both have nightmares about their pasts, and they both see Hans Hubermann and his accordion as a source of safety. He feels deeply guilty for leaving his family to save himself, an act he sees as a choice rather than a necessity to survive.  Max writes books for Liesel about all that she has done for him and about how her words and her tears are able to save him and give him strength.  He and Liesel become great friends during their time together. He is often conflicted between staying alive and his wish to make life easier for the Hubermanns by leaving, but he knows leaving would likely mean his death.  As he lives isolated in the Hubermann’s basement, he imagines literally fighting Hitler and countless Germans. The only time Max seems not to be fighting is when he is with Liesel. In those instances he is suddenly very soft and kind.




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