The Book Thief is a historical novel written by Markus Zusak in 2005. In The Book Thief, the narrator, Death uses colorful imagery to enhance the setting of the story, and symbolize multiple events in the story. Death is known for taking away souls from their mortal bodies. Death is surrounded by colors that he uses as a distraction, vacation, something to take him away from his awful ‘job’. As Death focuses on the colors around him, he also uses these colors to describe the events that are going to transpire, and this is an important part of the plot in the story. The colors represent the events of the world at that time, or the character and personality of the souls Death extracted.
Death prefers a chocolate brown sky himself. The dark shade of brown emphasizes the relative darkness that is shown by Death. In The Book Thief, the color brown symbolizes wholesomeness, stability, and resilience. Death is very stable and resilient as he is taking away souls from their mortal bodies. He also remains wholesome because he does retain feelings for and against the humans and he is intrigued.
“Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see – the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax (4).”
One of the three main colors Death uses throughout the novel is red. Normally, when someone thinks of the color red they think of an emergency. Death uses the color red to talk about his last experience on Himmel Street. Red symbolizes violence, blood, danger and compassion throughout the novel. Red is a part of the Nazi flag. How does Death tie in compassion with violence? The atmosphere of the bombing fit the description of the red sky and the specks of smoky black enhanced the sense of violence and danger during the bombing. As a result of the bombing, Liesel lost her brother, and this contributed to the compassion that is symbolized in the red sky.
“The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness. Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived, I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast. Then, bombs.” (The Book Thief 12).
The second color Death utilizes to enhance the setting of the novel is the color white, initiating this as the ‘main color’. White symbolizes winter, snowy weather, purity and innocence. During this time of sadness and despair, Death saw the color white as the perfect symbol for death versus purity. White was a part of the Nazi flag. White represented the emotions and environment around the characters of the story. We first come into contact with the color white when he takes the innocence of Liesel’s little brother. In this case white would represent purity.
“First up is something white. . . It was white. It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. . . Trees wore blankets of ice. . . I studied the blinding, white-snowy sky who stood at the window of the moving train. . . Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched. . . Twenty-three minutes later, when the train was stopped, I climbed out with them. A small soul was in my arms (6-8).”
Every color Death comes into contact with he tries to enjoy it, the whole spectrum. The question that Death imposes in the moment that he comes for you is, what color will everything be? What message will the sky try to vocalize? It is something about the darkness that does something to Death. He prefers a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate (4). When I think of darkness I think of black. In fact, this leads us to the third main color Death uses in the novel. Black symbolizes death, destruction, mourning, fear of the Nazi dominion, and absence of color of life. Black is a part of the Nazi flag. Death emphasizes the relative darkness and death through the color black. The significant role that black played in the novel was the representation of the swastika. This enhanced the atmosphere of mourning and destruction that is felt at the time of the disappointing pilot’s death. When Death brings the pilot’s soul back, he sees an eclipse. This is something Death sees all the time. He likes to describe them as ‘the recognition of another soul gone’. Unfortunately, Death sees way too many eclipses.
“Above me, the sky eclipsed – just a last moment of darkness – and I swear I could see a black signature in the shape of a swastika. It loitered untidily above. (491).” Outside of the three main colors Death utilizes to enhance the setting of the novel, there were many other colors that he applied to demonstrate colorful imagery, and also symbolize multiple events. Yellow, blue, and silver were also seen throughout the novel. These three colors also played a significant role in Death’s use of colors and his reasoning for that.
Silver is one of those colors that are closely associated with glamour, wisdom, riches, and even wealth. In The Book Thief, Death associated the color silver with meanings of wisdom, worth, friendship, and love. This is seen when Death narrates the sky as silver when Liesel kisses Rudy. Hans Hubermann silver eyes and accordion enhances him as a character who strongly upholds these traits. “Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot (34).”
Death uses the color yellow to provide some visual imagery and enhances the environment and events occurring throughout the story. Yellow symbolizes warnings/hazard, sunshine, happiness, and optimism. During the bombings and air raids, the sky is tinged yellow and this supports the warning/hazard symbolization. Death constantly describes Rudy’s hair as the color of lemons.
“Things like Rudy on a dais with three gold medals slung around his neck. Hair the color of lemons was written beneath it (444).” Death uses the color blue to symbolize peace, happiness, and courage. The sky is blue at the end of Liesel’s life. This enhances the setting by enforcing the righteous, peaceful life Liesel has. The blue sky illustrates the strength and courage that Liesel is showing to make it to the end of her life. It also represents the peace and happiness that is evident when she has a happy family and her time was finally up during the Nazi dominion. “She died in a suburb of Sydney. The house number was forty-five – the same as the Fiedlers’ shelter – and the sky was the best blue of afternoon. Like her papa, her soul was sitting up (543).”
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