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Conflict 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.

In this lesson, we will explore conflict and the different types of this literary device before discussing conflict in 'The Book Thief.' Read on to learn about conflict in Markus Zusak's best-selling novel.

Conflict in Storytelling

Every story has a conflict, which is something a character or characters attempt to overcome--a struggle between forces. If you think back to some of the stories you've read and movies you've seen, you may recognize some conflicts, which generally come in four different types:

  • Character versus character: This type of conflict occurs when a character battles--physically, verbally, or mentally--another character. Perhaps there's a wrestling match (physical), war of words (verbal), or chess match (mental). All of these would classify as character versus character conflict, and they make for a pretty exciting read!
  • Character versus self: This type of conflict is when a character is conflicted by a decision he or she has to make. Should she move to California to try to be an actress? Should he indulge on another cupcake? These are just some examples of self-conflict.
  • Character versus nature: This conflict involves a battle against nature. It could involve getting pummeled by the ocean's crashing waves or perhaps becoming caught in a snowstorm on a hike. In both examples, the character wants to make it out of the situation and overcome Mother Nature, and the readers want to see it play out.
  • Character versus society: This type of conflict is when a character takes on large groups, a community, a culture, a society, etc. This could be when a character believes something is right, but that belief goes against cultural norms.

Conflict in The Book Thief

Character Versus Society

The major conflict in Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief that should stand out to readers is character versus society. Nearly all of the major characters have a conflict with the Nazi beliefs, and each rebels in his or her own way.

Max Vandenburg, the Jew that hides from the Nazis, has one of the strongest conflicts in the story. He first hides in the storage room and then later travels to Molching using a false identification card to stay with the Hubermanns.

The Hubermanns rebel against the Nazis by hiding Max for a couple of years. Hans Hubermann also feeds a Jew marching to a concentration camp (we'll talk more about this scene later). And, young Liesel even stole a book from a Nazi book-burning bonfire as her own act of rebellion.

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