Guilt Theme In The Book Thief

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Guilt: one of the strongest emotions, the cause of grief and sadness everywhere. In The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, characters such as Liesel Meminger, Hans Hubermann, and Michael Holtzapfel, are only a few who experience this intense emotion. Whether it stems from death, survival, or thievery, guilt finds it’s way into affecting each character’s lives, making it a main theme.
The most popular type of guilt throughout the book is survivor’s guilt. Survivor's guilt is when one feels unworthy for having survived a catastrophic event while others have not. One of the main examples of survivor’s guilt can be seen in the relationship between two friends, Erik Vandenburg and Hans Hubermann. Both Erik and Hans risked their lives as soldiers in World
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Michael Holtzapfel, son of Frau Holtzapfel, experiences a lot of guilt. He served in the German Army and fought in the Battle of Stalingrad alongside his brother, Robert. Within battle, Michael hurts his hand, and Robert severely injures his legs by getting them blown off. Robert is taken to a makeshift hospital, where Michael watches him die. “I spent three days of that week sitting with him before he died…” (Zusak 467). Michael, depressed and melancholy, returns home to deliver the news to his mother, Frau Holtzapfel. The devastation following the loss of her son was apparent, which only causes Michael to feel guilty. The loss of his brother, on top of how guilty he feels for living while his brother died, overwhelms him. Michael deals with this by committing suicide. “Michael Holtzapfel knew what he was doing. He killed himself for wanting to live” (Zusak 503). While Michael deals with guilt by self destructing, Liesel, the main character, handles guilt using other methods. Liesel encounters guilt through the death of her loved ones in addition to the sadness of losing everything she had. She deals with this guilt by stealing books and reading with her Papa. By stealing books, she achieved the famous nickname, the Book Thief. Her favorite thing to do with the stolen books was read with her father. Her Papa frequently read with her. “ ‘ Do you want to read it?’ Again, ‘Yes Papa’ “ (Zusak 64). One of Liesel’s friends, Max, is constantly filled with guilt as well. He is an essential character who abandons his family in order to escape
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