Irony in The Book Thief

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  • 0:01 What Is Irony?
  • 1:03 Death as a Sensitive Narrator
  • 1:38 Himmel Street
  • 2:19 Hans and the Nazi Party
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shelley Vessels

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

''The Book Thief'' by Markus Zusak is loaded with all three types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic. Read the following lesson to learn more about each type and see some examples from the story.

What Is Irony?

No, it's not a freshly pressed shirt. Irony is something that differs significantly from what one might expect. There are three common types of irony:

  1. Verbal Irony: this is when a speaker says one thing but actually means something completely different. Example: Sure, Mom, I'd absolutely love to clean my room all day on Saturday.
  2. Dramatic Irony: this is used in a story when the readers understand a detail in the story, but the characters remain unaware. Example: The readers know that a blizzard is coming, but the hikers start up the mountain unaware that the storm is about to hit.
  3. Situational Irony: this is when something happens and the reversal of expectations occurs. Example: A fire station burning down is an example of situational irony because one would think that of all places, a fire station would be fireproof.

Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief, loves to play with irony, and if you look closely, you'll find it all around the story.

Death as a Sensitive Narrator

Let's start with death, our narrator. Strangely, he has human emotions. He is a sensitive fella and needs to distract himself from the hard work that he does: carrying souls. There is situational irony in Death being a compassionate soul collector. To cope, Death focuses on the colors of the sky and even dwells on Rudy's death, saying that 'he didn't deserve to die the way he did.'

Death tells us early on that Rudy will die in a bomb strike. This creates a dramatic irony as the audience now knows that this character will die, but the character himself is unaware.

Himmel Street

In German, 'himmel' means 'heaven,' so for the main setting of The Book Thief to be on Himmel Street is a great example of situational irony. Sure, Himmel Street is the place of some fun between Liesel and Rudy, as well as the place where Liesel found a home with the Hubermanns.

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