Colors in The Book Thief

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

Colors play a huge role in the storytelling of 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak. Our narrator, Death, is drawn to colors, mostly as a coping mechanism for the tough work he does. Read the following lesson to learn more.

Death's Unusual Fascination

Close your eyes. Think about the narrator of The Book Thief, Death. What colors come to mind? Maybe black, gray, even more black?

While we don't actually get an image of Death in the story, Death has an unusual fascination with colors. There are often breaks in intense narratives for Death to describe the colors that can be seen at that exact moment. Why does this happen?

Of course, Death's main job is to escort souls, but even he can't handle it all the time. He's actually somewhat sensitive. And, since there are no vacations for Death, he makes 'distraction (his) vacation.' The 'leftover humans' - the survivors with the 'punctured hearts' - are troubling for him to see. To cope, Death pauses and describes the colors of the sky for the reader; a chocolate brown sky is his favorite.

Death is fascinated by colors.
color wheel

Color at the Moment of Tragedy

When the American pilot crashes and Rudy and Liesel rush over, Death is already there waiting and observing. It is the moment before dawn, and the sky is a 'signature black' that later turns to a charcoal - 'the blackness above is nothing but a scribble.' As Death brings the pilot's soul back, he sees an eclipse - something he's seen millions of times. He describes them as 'the recognition of another soul gone.' Death explains that he's unfortunately seen too many eclipses.

At the end of the novel, disaster strikes Himmel Street. Hans, a kind man, dies in an air raid. Death notes, 'The hot sky was red and turning. Pepper streaks were starting to swirl.' This is one of the harder soul collections that Death needs to attend to because the survivors' outcries hurt him. Again, he turns to his comforting distraction.

Finally, when Liesel - a character whom Death has an attachment to - passes after a long, full life, he describes the sky as 'the best blue of afternoon.' Clearly this is a better experience for Death, and the positive tone reflects it. It's much different than the angry red sky after the destruction on Himmel Street.

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