Guilt in the Book Thief

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Guilt is something that everyone has felt before. It can make them feel unworthy ashamed, or embarrassed. It causes people to act differently towards others, in a positive or negative way. Max Vadenburg, Liesel Meminger, and Hans Hubermann are just some of the characters who experience guilt in The Book Thief. Some reasons for their guilt were caused by thievery, lying, and loss.

Max Vandenburg is the “”Jewish fist fighter”” that ends up living in the Hubermanns basement. Max feels the most guilt from abandoning his family.

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On the night of November 9, 1939, Nazis soldiers filled the streets of Germany and destroyed Jewish homes and stores. A man dressed in Nazi uniform tells him he needs to leave, or else he would be arrested. His family practically pushes him out of the door; when he finally leaves he runs to a hiding place. “”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””(Zusak 193). Another reason for his guilt is due to the fact that he is living in the Hubermanns basement. He knows that the longer he stays there, the Hubermanns will have a greater chance of getting caught. In Maxes case no one really judges him the way that he judges himself.

Liesel Meminger is the main character in the book. She is adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel throughout the story steals books, that’s why she gets the title “”the book thief””. Each time she steals a book she feels guilty, but continues to do it anyways. When the mayor’s wife told Liesel that her mother was fired, Liesel was overcome with anger. She said some very harsh words to her. When Liesel got home she knew that she had done a terrible thing, and began to feel guilty. ‘…I think I’m going to hell””(Zusak 255). No one judges Liesel in the way that she judes herself.

Hans Hubermann is the foster dad of Liesel. He experiences the most guilt throughout the book. Hanses friend Eric Vanderburg and him were soldiers in WW1. Their commanding officer needed someone with good penmanship to write a letter for him; Eric said ‘Hubermann sir””. Just like that Hans stayed back and wrote the letter while his friends died in battle. He feels a great amount of guilt from that war; he regrets not dying with his friends. The last example of guilt from Hans was at a Jew parade. While the parade is going on Hans notices an old man fall down, and the Nazi soldier forces him up. This happens many times before Hans give the old man a piece of bread. When the soldier notices what happening he starts whipping the old man and then Hans. When he finally gets home he realizes what he did, and he automatically starts freaking out. “”Oh my God, Liesel, what have I done?””(Zusak 395). Now the Nazis are more suspicious of him being a “”Jew lover””; Hans feels guilty for putting Max in more danger. In Hnases case he is judged the same in the way that he judges himself; people now know he feels bad for the Jews.

When it comes to The Book Thief all the characters feel guilt at least once in the story. It’s a recurring topic. They all go through different experiences to feel the guilt, and they all handle it differently. In Liesel’s case, it causes her to steal more books, in Max’s case it causes him to have nightmares about leaving his family, and in Hans’s case it causes him to feel paranoid of Nazi soldiers.

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Guilt in The Book Thief. (2019, Jun 12). Retrieved from