Metaphors 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.

Figurative language, like metaphors, makes writing spicy, 'The Book Thief' is filled with metaphors that describe really disturbing moments in really beautiful ways, which you'll learn about in this lesson.

Recognizing a Metaphor

Most kids, with some practice, can recognize a simile because it's a comparison using the words 'like' or 'as.' Here's a couple of examples:

Example: The peach pie is like a little slice of heaven.

Meaning: The peach pie is absolutely incredible.

Example: The pool is as cold as a glass of ice water.

Meaning: The pool water is really, really cold. Brrr!

So, what is a metaphor? A metaphor is the figurative language sister of the simile. It compares two things without including the words 'like' or 'as.' Let's see what our similes look like as metaphors.

  • The peach pie is a little slice of heaven.
  • The pool is a glass of ice water.

Does the meaning change at all? It doesn't. Metaphors are a creative way to express an idea by making a comparison between two different things.

Death in Metaphors

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Death, the narrator, loves metaphors so much it appears he even thinks in them. For a non-human soul collector, he loves playing with language. Let's take a peek at some that are pure gold. Yes, that, too, is a metaphor.

Jigsaw Puzzle

One of the first metaphors readers are introduced to is at the very beginning of the novel when Death speaks about what bothers him about his job. It's not the actual carrying of the souls that disturbs him, it's the 'leftover humans' that he struggles with. He says, 'I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise.'

The ones who are 'crumbling' - or breaking down - are left behind in the mess - the 'jigsaw puzzle' - to deal with their emotions and the reality of the loss of their loved ones. The Holocaust is just too difficult for anyone to comprehend, and for that, it's a puzzle.

Snow and Ice

When Death collects souls, typically one of the sadder moments, he's at his most poetic. We know that he needs to distract himself from the leftover humans, so perhaps the figurative language is one of his many distractions. When Liesel's brother dies on the railway, Death describes the scene.

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