Summary and Analysis Part 10: The Book Thief: Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book



It is mid-August 1943. Liesel climbs through Frau Hermann's window to read. While she sits on the floor with a book, she begins to think of words and the Führer's use of those words, how words can make her happy but they're also responsible for awful things. She tears the pages out of the book and then leaves a note for Frau Hermann stating that she's going to punish herself for what she's done and not visit the library anymore. Three days later, Ilsa Hermann comes to Liesel's front door. Liesel is home alone, and Ilsa offers her a black journal in which Liesel can write her own stories. Ilsa warns Liesel not to punish herself, not to be like her. That night, Liesel goes down to the basement to write her story: The Book Thief.


When she thinks about words, Liesel thinks both about their goodness, how they can fill her up and empower her, as well as how they can destroy others and fill them with hate. She realizes all of the awful things for which words are responsible and finds herself despising them. In many ways, words are for Liesel what humans are for Death: complicated. She begins to wonder what good words are for.

Frau Hermann understands how her punishment of herself has been a mistake. She cares so much about Liesel, and about making sure that Liesel continues to love words and write her own and not make the same mistakes she made, that she leaves her home to visit Liesel. She wears a dress and gives Liesel the gift of writing, a place to put her words. Again, Frau Hermann provides Liesel with an outlet for her love of words and encourages her to pursue stories. This time, a story of her own that will save her life.

Just as Liesel has come to know the joy and pain that words can bring, she sees this same duality in writing. The experience of remembering and communicating her memories through her writing is painful, but it also reminds her of the happiness of certain moments.