Ilsa Hermann Forgave Liesel
The Dichotomy of Words and Their Power
In the novel, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, Liesel is given the meaning and power of words. Throughout the novel, she learns about how words can affect people during the span of World War Two living in Nazi Germany. She learns how to wield these words to fight against the fear and darkness spreading throughout the world around her. Liesel is given the power of words through books and love from her friends and foster family. After seeing the ugliness and beauty of words, Liesel grows and develops into the young woman we meet at the end of the story. Throughout the novel, Liesel sees how words change people and the positive, negative, and hidden impacts words can have on the world.
Liesel was changed for the better because of healing words and moments sprouting from the most unlikely of places. Liesel has experienced so much death and loss throughout her life, and when her brother died she took a book from the burial site. Then Hans Hubermann, her foster father, decided to help Liesel cope with her loss by reading her The Grave Digger’s Handbook, the book she stole. The positive effect and power words can have is shown through this experience. Hans and Liesel become better friends, and Liesel sees that she still has someone who loves her. These words brought them together and had it not been for the book they would never have bonded as much, nor spent as much time together learning to read. When Hans takes Liesel out to his favorite spot by the river to have lessons, they always have a good time. Their relationship is forever changed and strengthened. One particular moment that shows the nature of their friendship was when he made a joke based on what they were doing at that time of the lesson; he had drawn a stick figure without eyes to prove a point about Liesel. Death describes the situation like this, “He patted the girl’s hair. She’d fallen into his trap, ‘With a smile like that’, Hans Hubermann said, ‘you don’t need eyes.’ He hugged her [...] She was watching the words (p. 68)”. This quote shows how light-hearted and true their friendship was; it also shows how Hans initially showed her the power of words. Liesel learned so much about Hans and so much about herself from him, he always pushed her to try harder and be happy. Zusak shows how so much love and affection can come from words because, without the book, they would never have spent so much time together and they most likely would not have been as close. The positive influence this book had on Liesel was so much more powerful than the sorrow she felt from the experiences from it; because of this book she finally felt like she had a real friend and that the past didn't matter. Liesel sees the beauty that words can have and how friendship can come in any form or fashion.
Even though words are a great source of goodness, they can also bring forth the ugliness of people and be used as a force of evil. One experience that showed Liesel the ugliness of people was when she read Max’s journal. Max wrote a journal about his life and thoughts about Hitler and the world at that point; he planned to give Liesel the book when she was older. Liesel read the book before Max was ready to give it to her and it frightened her. Death shows the moment in the basement with Max asleep against the wall, the book in her hands, “Frightened by what she saw, Liesel placed the book back down, exactly as she found it [...] He returned to his sleep, and behind her, the girl dragged the same thought up the steps. You scared me, Max
(p. 281)”. Liesel was so scared by what she saw because Max only put the truth into his journal; he was brutally honest. His words had a negative impact on Liesel because they scarred her and made her question everything that she knew and loved. Liesel thought her world was perfect, and even though it wasn't, it was a comfort for her to think that it was. These words followed her and she couldn't forget them. The words negatively affected her because they stayed with her. The power of words was shown during this time because it showed how brutal and hurtful the world was and Liesel found the ugliness of the people that ruled her world. Zusak uses this experience to show Liesel that her world isn't perfect and it is quite corrupted, something she shouldn’t have had to deal with yet. The impact and power of these words were negative and destructive on Liesel.
Lastly, Zusak puts Liesel in a position to look past the initial effect of words and see their deeper meaning, power, and effect. Liesel found the effect that words had on her through books and the things others said to her, but she hadn’t exactly found out how her words affected others. Liesel found out how much words can hurt when she berated Ilsa Hermann for canceling her Mama’s laundry service. Liesel said some very hurtful things to Ilsa Hermann, and she could see the effects right after she said everything, “Liesel could see it on her face. Blood leaked from her nose and licked her lips. Her eyes blackened. Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from the words. From Liesel’s words (p. 263).” Even though the immediate consequences of Liesel’s words were sadness and hurt, in the end, it changed Ilsa Hermann and helped both of them to heal. Ilsa Hermann finally saw how different and sad she had become, so Liesel’s words helped her to heal and get back up again. Their relationship was still a bit strained, but they still loved each other, and Ilsa Hermann realized that she should forgive Liesel. In a letter to Liesel, she wrote this, “When you came back, I should have been angry, but I wasn’t. [...] My only hope is that one day you will knock on the front door and enter the library in a more civilized way (p. 369).” Ilsa Hermann forgave Liesel and it gave Liesel this sense of happiness knowing that she hadn’t truly lost her friend. Their argument showed the destructive power of words by breaking Liesel and Ilsa down and apart. Then the resolution was the reason to celebrate words, and how words can mean forgiveness and healing. The way that words can come out one way and then morph into a whole other effect is so important because it turned happiness and friendship into sadness, and then into forgiveness and made them each stronger. The power of hurtful and forgiving words are brought to light in Liesel’s experience with Ilsa Hermann.
The dichotomy of words is shown throughout the entire novel, and Liesel sees how people are changed through both aspects of it. Liesel was changed by both the ugliness and beauty of words, she also changed someone by hurtful yet truthful words. Liesel saw how words turned an entire nation against Jews, and how those same words ended up saving a Jew’s life. She saw how a painful memory started a new friendship and helped her to cope with her loss. Lastly, she found out that everything she thought she knew was a lie, how there were evil people that were labeled as heroes. It is important to learn the power of words and find out how they will affect others, and it is very important to not let words hurt you and to get back up and forgive. It would have helped the characters in this book to truly look at the true meaning of words. Zusak shows how words can be malicious and frightening, and how they can be loving and life-changing. Words have a tremendous impact on everyone’s life. Zusak is trying to show the reader how important words are and to use them wisely.