Literary Criticism for The Book Thief

Instructor: Lindsey Hays

Lindsey has taught Elementary Education, Spanish immersion, and ESL. She has a MS in Elementary Education with a BA in Spanish.

Markus Zusak makes some creative choices in The Book Thief. People are captivated by the story, but readers have some varying opinions on some of the specifics. Let's learn about literary criticism and look at some different reactions to The Book Thief.

Literary Criticism

Think of your favorite book. What aspects of the book did you enjoy or hate? If you write down these opinions, then you will have created a literary criticism. A literary criticism is a written opinion of a book (though the term can also refer to oral opinions). It is usually packed with analysis and description of different aspects of the author's argument.

Let's look at some of the varying opinions, or literary criticisms, of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Literary Criticism of Genre Choice

The genre of The Book Thief is a unique mixture of historical fiction and fantasy. Historical fiction is when a novel takes place in a setting in the past. It usually has realistic elements that could have really happened and is based around historical events. The Book Thief takes place in the 1940s in Nazi Germany. Though it's set in the fictional city of Molching, it has real-life elements like the upper-class controlling the lower class, racism, strong gender roles, air raids, and fear of attacks on Jews.

The Book Thief is a historical fiction novel set in Nazi Germany.

At the same time, there is an element of fantasy. The narrator is ''Death,'' and the story is told from this unique perspective. Most people believe this clash of genres to be innovative and enticing to read, but some realistic fiction fans may not appreciate the invitation of fantastical elements into their traditional genre.

Literary Criticism of Tone

As the historical elements mesh with fantasy, the author discusses some dark topics in a kid-friendly way. Nazi Germany becomes almost whimsical. The tone is lighthearted and ridden with dry humor. Although the author discusses misery and cruelty, he does it in a way that is easy to relate to.

Some readers have felt that Death's humor could be considered overly clever and wordy. The novel has been considered long and at times slow moving. Readers have disagreed with some of the author's stylistic choices, like Death's snippets that are bolded throughout. At times, Zusak uses illustrations and foreshadowing, which is when the author reveals upcoming events before they happen. Some people have found them fun and endearing, while others have said the use of such devices is almost annoying.

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