Imagery in The Book Thief

Instructor: Mary Evans

Mary has taught elementary school for six years and has a master's degree in education.

Some of the most satisfying books to read are the ones in which the author is able to paint pictures with words, and 'The Book Thief' is just that kind of book. In this lesson, we'll investigate Markus Zusak's use of imagery in 'The Book Thief.'

Understanding Imagery

Have you ever read a book where you forgot you were reading at all but felt instead you were watching a movie in your mind? That's because of a little something called imagery!

Imagery is a literary device, or tool, writers use to help readers make mental pictures of what they are reading. In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak does a great job of creating images that help us to see what is happening in the story in a way that also helps us connect with how the characters are feeling.

Imagery allows readers to create mental movies.
graphic of movie playing from someones imagination

Imagery Engages the Senses

Throughout The Book Thief, imagery helps the reader to visualize the story. In order to achieve this, the author describes scenes by including details about how parts of the story look, smell, taste, feel, or sound.

An example is when Liesel goes on a book-thieving mission, climbs through the Mayor's window and discovers cookies waiting for her. We can see, smell, and taste the atmosphere of the room just by reading the words that describe it:

'They were Kipferl left over from Christmas, and they'd been sitting on the desk for at least two weeks. Like miniature horseshoes with a layer of icing sugar, the ones on the bottom were bolted to the plate. The rest were piled on top, forming a chewy mound. She could already smell them when her fingers tightened on the window ledge. The room tasted like sugar and dough, and thousands of pages.'

Although we've likely never seen two-week old 'Kipferl', we can imagine what Leisel encountered that day when she entered the Mayor's wife's library. At this point in the story, food of any kind was limited, and through imagery we are able to see and understand what a treat these stale old Christmas cookies must have been for Liesel.

Surreal Imagery

The everyday imagery in 'The Book Thief' helps readers to make an ongoing mental movie as they make their way through the story. However, the book also has several special and spectacular moments of imagery. Some of the most amazing imagery in The Book Thief is surreal, meaning the images Zusak describes are fantastical. This imagery enables the reader to create mental pictures of things that could never actually happen, but those images somehow capture the feeling of the story just right.

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