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Maeve Hammond
Mrs. Rutan
AP Literature and Composition
16 June 2013

Good Versus Evil in Molching


Markus Zusaks book, The Book Thief, is a classic portrayal of good versus evil. Zusak
explores some of the most debauch elements of Nazi Germanylike book burnings and Jewish
persecutionand intertwines them with the virtuousness of certain characters in The Book
Thief. Zusak has a motive to applying this stark contrast in his book: only when the darkness of
Nazi Germany is emphasized can the lightthe goodnessof the characters shine. This allows
for me, the reader, to fully understand and appreciate the genuineness of the main characters.

In some instances in The Book Thief, debase events provide a starting point to lead into
a situation that will benefit a character. At the beginning of the book, we see the protagonist,
Liesel Meminger, commiting her first act of thievery after her brothers death. Liesel steals the
gravediggers book that fell out of his pocket; unknowingly, she does this in order to have a
tangible object to remind her of when she last saw her brother. When she moves in with her new
foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, she hides her last link to himThe Grave Diggers
Handbookunder her mattress, and occasionally she would pull it out and hold it (38). When
Hans Hubermann discovers she has the book, he immediately works with her to read and finish
the book. Hans is the first character we see who truly exemplifies goodness: hea kind but
uneducated man who has limited reading skillsteaches Liesel to read by studying the book
little-by-little each day. Hans also does this to help Liesel combat her horrific, reoccurring
nightmares that were brought on by her brothers death. This circumstance shows the good that


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actually comes from misguided actions in Liesels life, and contests the underlying evil of
loneliness and lack of education that plagued Liesel before the aid of Hans.

Hanss daily reading with Liesel spawns her love of books. This love prompts Liesel to
steal once again. This time, it is a book called The Shoulder Shrug, stolen from the bottom of a
pile of burning books during an anti-sematic raid in Molching, the Hubermanns hometown. The
book burning in this town is the setting of Zusaks odd, but powerful, depiction of good and evil.
The book burningwhich glorifies the defacing of Jewish cultureis undoubtedly a supremely
evil act. Liesel knows it is wrong, as Zusak writes, something inside her told her that this was a
crime (109). But Liesels own crimewhich is in itself wrongturns out to be the true
goodness in the scene that overpowers the bad. By stealing The Shoulder Shrug, she disregards
the Nazi propaganda telling her to devalue Jewish literature and uses the book to better herself
and further her education.

In addition, from this situation, we are given insight into the goodness of another
character: the mayors wife, Isla Hermann. When Liesel realizes Frau Hermann saw her steal
The Shoulder Shrug from the pile of burning books, she is in a state of paranoia [that] itself
became the punishment (129) while delivering washing to the mayors house. Liesel is certain
Frau Hermann will turn her in for stealing from the remains of the burn pile because her
husbandthe mayoris a devout Nazi who helped coordinate the book burning. However,
Liesel is faced with something very unexpected: Frau Hermann welcomes Liesel into their
house, holding a tower of books against her stomach (133) and lets Liesel explore the
Hermanns huge library. I have an immense amount of respect for Isla: she realizes the


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happiness of a child should not be compromised for any political party, although this notion
could potentially put her in great danger given the Nazi partys morally illicit principles.
Readers of The Book Thief will again see good triumph over evil: in this instance, Hans
Hubermann rebuilds the faith of the Jewish people. After Hans witnesses men throwing bricks
and vandalizing a Jewish mans store, he returns to it the next day and repaints the door of the
mans shop, which is now defaced with the sickening words, Jewish Filth (181). Also, Hans
and the Hubermann family secretly shelter a Jew destined for persecution, Max, who is the son
of a man who saved Hans life in the Great War. Hans knows these actions could risk the ire of
the Nazi Party, which would not secure the familys safety from Nazi harassment; but his
morality prevails throughout bleak, malevolent Nazi control. Because of Hans ceaseless
compassion and kindness, he is my favorite character in The Book Thief.

The theme of good versus evil is prominent and unremitting throughout The Book Thief.
Although good seems to win over evil in most situations, darkness is still an underlying factor in
each scene of The Book Thief. Perhaps the setting and tone of Nazi Germany help the most to
embody the darkness: Molching is filled with povertyLiesel and her friends steal food because
of their persistent hunger (150-153)and Nazi propagandalike Hitlers Mein Kampf, which is
referenced multiple timesreinforces the increasing influence of the Third Reich throughout
Germany. However, through the actions of characters like Hans, Liesel, and Frau Hermann,
there is hope that good will continue to triumph over the insidious evil. In conclusion, as one
reads The Book Thief, and witnesses the development of these characters develop, the atrocities
of the Nazis pales with the light of the characters morality and their willingness to combat evil.