Abandonment, manifested from both an individual human perspective and as a general social problem, is one of the main themes of Zusak’s (2016) “The Book Thief.” The children and adult characters demonstrate the worries and anxieties associated with the forced need to endure the difficulties that fell to their lot during that period. The relationship between the main heroine and her environment is based on the principle of abandonment, which can be interpreted as a manifestation of loneliness and forced growing up, recognizable in childhood.
Abandonment in Times of War
Abandonment for Liesel is a characteristic feature of life in times of war when the right to choose a free life is limited. Due to her young age, the main character cannot adequately interpret what is happening, but she feels constant anxiety. The situation when her mother leaves her to Hans and Rosa testifies to this: “if her mother loved her, why leave her on someone else’s doorstep?” (Zusak, 2016, p. 36). The girl cannot understand why her closest person leaves her to other people when protection seems sorely needed. For the mother herself, this is no less a tragedy. As the heroine recalls, her mother has always been sick and had little money to feed her two children (Zusak, 2016). Making the decision to entrust the surviving daughter to strangers, the woman is forced to leave her child. Having not yet experienced the loss of her son, she demonstrates behavior on the verge of insanity: “still in disbelief, she started to dig” (Zusak, 2016, p. 29). All this suggests that forced abandonment leaves an imprint on the right to choose.
Abandonment shows how Liesel’s community is divided into individual groups, leaving people alone. The girl remembers her friendship with Rudy and the incident when “he painted himself charcoal black and ran the 100 meters” (Zusak, 2016, p. 52). Without adults’ support, children are forced to live the way they feel. Liesel recalls being considered stupid at school because she was not good at reading (Zusak, 2016). No one taught her this skill, which also suggests that she, like many other children, was abandoned. The life of Liesel’s foster parents is an example of how people make ends meet in a situation where there is no one to rely on and ask for help. People “had to terminate the services of Rosa Hubermann” and explained this by the need “to prepare for harder times” (Zusak, 2016, p. 256). These times explain the separation followed by abandonment and lack of support.
Forced Growing up
Abandonment demonstrates how children grow up faster when placed in difficult environments. For instance, Liesel develops strong anti-war attitudes by looking at the horrors of war (Zusak, 2016). Adults, taking little part in the lives of children, are busy with other things. Hans and Rosa are constantly looking for part-time jobs (Zusak, 2016). For them, raising Liesel is far from a paramount task. Even under the conditions of propaganda, the children sensibly comprehended what was happening; once, Rudy “handed out the pieces of bread on the road” to the captive Jews who were led there (Zusak, 2016, p. 427). All this suggests that abandonment is a forced incentive for self-development.
Abandonment in childhood shapes the feelings of loneliness and worthlessness that children of war, such as Liesel, were forced to experience. The examples of their lives, as well as those of adults, prove that not being able to rely on others’ help, people adapt to difficult conditions, albeit with challenges. Neither war nor any other deprivation is an adequate reason to betray universal ideals and go against conscience, and the book by Zusak perfectly demonstrates this.
Zusak, M. (2016). The book thief. Knopf Books for Young Readers.