18th October 2018

book thief portfolio piece

Portfolio Piece 1
Blake Hartley

Death in The Book Thief

Throughout humanity death has been portrayed as evil: if you were a good or bad person it didn’t matter, death got everyone. Death in most religions and history was normally personified as a human figure, however he was never seen as human like. Death was always the end all, an inevitable end to life, unavoidable no matter what you do and this often meant death was seen as an enemy and being represented as dark figures such as the grim reaper, ‘The book Thief’ written by Markus Zusak challenged this idea by creating a more human representation of death that could perceive human emotions and situations through colours to understand people’s deaths. This essay will show that death isn’t something to be afraid of and that everyone is unique and that people should welcome these differences because it’s these differences that makes life interesting.


Death has always been a mystery: no one really knows what happens when you die, it was always this unexplainable inevitable end to life that no matter how hard people tried no one could escape and because of this mystery, humans would often give death a physical representation, normally an immortal human figure to help understand why death occurs and what happens after. Death is normally associated with the loss of loved ones and because of this death was almost always represented by evil such as demons with the main colour theme of red or black; evil and darkness. This symbol of death helped humans deal with the fears of death and the sorrows of loved ones, by either making death less of a mystery and showing that people die for a reason. By believing in a god or greater being who controls the universe, it allows them to blame their sorrow on someone or something and try to find meaning for someones death. The book ‘The Book Thief’ opposed this idea by representing death with an almost human personality. Throughout ‘The Book Thief’ the story is narrated by death, a unique concept, the death in this book was less of a decider of who dies and more of a messenger just doing his job of receiving people’s souls, and like humans he tried to see meaning in his work: “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both” this is a quote he said about humans that shows he understands concepts like ugliness and beauty, evil and bad, but it also shows he can’t change who dies. Death simply meets the souls of humans when they die, which makes you think there may be an even higher being. Death wonders how humans can be both so beautiful and interesting while at the same time be so meaningless and wasteful. Markus Zusak used this symbol to show the readers that death isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s just a process everyone has to go through. You can see what Markus Zusak meant through this symbol, that death is something that all living things experience and that in order for there to be beauty in this world there needs ugly to contrast the beauty. This reminds me of a quote said by Edgar Allan Poe, “Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.” which means: that without suffering you can never know what it’s like to be blessed, without the bad moments you can’t have good moments, without the ugly you could never see the beauty of this world, without death to end our lives you could never see and appreciate the beauty of life and the ability to have consciousness in this universe.


“Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to
enjoy every color I see—the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to
slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax.” This is a quote said by death and what he thinks of colors, including his favourite color; Dark brown. Death uses colours to read the emotions and the situations of surroundings, he uses colours to understand how and why people have died. Markus Zusak used death’s relationship with colours to show that death isn’t an evil monster and is actually almost human, humans have a unique relationship with colours. Colors mean a lot in human society, from a young age we begin to learn to give meaning to colors: red means stop or bad, green means go or good, yellow is happiness, and so on. This is an extremely powerful understanding as it is one of the only universal languages between humans. In ‘The Book Thief’ death uses colors to show and understand his feelings and the surroundings around him. But I don’t think that death necessarily understands colours but from the generations of humans he has seen die and the many situations around those deaths, death has learned to assign meanings to colours and thereby begin to understand humans and their point of life. The quote above shows that death even has the ability to have favourites, which is quite rare, humans are the only animal that have personal favourite things, most other animals see no point in this because it doesn’t physically benefit them in any way, and it would seem that death, someone who has seen billions of people die, would not have much need for favourites. Death says that his favourite color is dark brown, a color not many people typically like, and he says that people say it suits him. This is strange because most religions and symbols of death uses black or red, such as the grim reaper or the devil, death might even feel a bit misrepresented, humans represent him as evil and remorseless but really he just something doing its job. He also says that there are billions of colors none which are quite the same, this is a symbol meaning that every human and their death is unique, no two are alike, and that it’s these differences that keeps him alive and interested in his job. Markus Zusak used this symbol to show the reader that everyone is unique and that’s what makes life interesting, the differences not the uniformity, and that you shouldn’t try to fit into the norm.

Overall in conclusion Markus Zusak used symbolism in ‘The Book Thief’ to teach the reader that you should not be afraid of death, that without the sadness and mystery of death you would never know the happiness of being alive and could never appreciate this gift, we may never know what happens after death but it is something all organisms have to go through. He also used deaths relationship with colors to show us that everyone is different and that its these differences that makes life interesting. Overall Markus Zusak used symbolism of death and colors to show the reader that death isn’t something to be afraid of, without death we would never appreciate how amazing life is, because it is the contrasts in life that make our lives interesting.


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