In the majority of books, the narrator is human and alive, but in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the narrator is Death. Yes, Death with a capital D. As the story is told, the reader is immersed in a point of view that is unimaginable—the one who decides when everyone dies. Creepy, right?

 

To add another layer to this unique story, it’s historically placed during the Holocaust in Germany. This is a work of fiction, but it weaves in many true details and events throughout. Using The Book Thief as an example of varying perspectives is not difficult, so this lesson will focus on thinking outside the box and into unique points of view crafted brilliantly by this author.

 

Why would an author choose to tell a Holocaust story from such a cryptic perspective? What effect does that create throughout the story? Students will dive in to get to know Death and try to look creatively at different perspectives in stories or movies they know so well.

 

Lesson on Point of View

  • Read the excerpt below, found on page 4 of the novel (Read the first chapter called “Death and Chocolate” if you want more details!). It hits the reader hard with understanding who will tell this story about a young girl named Liesel, trying to survive the Holocaust, and how Death will encounter her three times as she steals books from dangerous and forbidden places.

            I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.

            At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up). You will be caked in your own body. There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air. The only sound I’ll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps. (4)

 

Have students complete a character diagram in small groups or partners on Death. Discussion will center around: What is Death like? How did you know? What sentence led you to understand this narrator the best? Explain.

  • Have students display their character analysis around the room. Have a Gallery Walk where students walk and read each one to see any other descriptions they might have missed.

  • After students have had time to read each other’s descriptions, pose this prompt to the full class: Predict what the impact of the personification of Death will be on the story.
    • Provide small group/partner thinking and discussion time (5 minutes).
    • Discuss as a class.

Extension Activity

  • Have students think of a book or movie that would be completely different if it was told from someone else’s point of view.

  • Have them choose a scene from the book or movie and rewrite it as that different character.

Examples

Disney’s Frozen

Kristoff

Olaf

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Friar Lawrence

Nurse

Either set of parents

Marvel’s Iron Man (Tony Stark)

Pepper (Iron Man’s wife)

J.A.R.V.I.S. (Iron Man’s robot)

 

Download the lesson below in a convenient pdf to print or save!

DOWNLOAD LESSON

 

Jennifer Dryden is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for queer youth any way she can, including running her school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA). She has a passion for reading and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her eighth year teaching. Dryden graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.

 

 

Tags: Literature, ELA