My Analysis - Barnes B1 - Kate Kalthoff

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Kathryn Kalthoff
Mrs. Barnes
Honors Language Arts 8
28 September 2015
Digging Deeper Into Defining Themes
Books, although they may seem different on the cover, can be very similar in theme. This
becomes evident in both The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Great Gilly Hopkins by
Katherine Paterson. In Zusak’s story, a girl named Liesel lives with her foster parents, Hans and
Rosa Hubermann, after leaving her mother and losing her brother. She encounters many trials as
a child and becomes a thief of books. In The Great Gilly Hopkins, the author introduces a feisty
and rebellious young foster child named Gilly. She moves from home to home looking for a
family that is right for her. In the novels mentioned the authors use symbolism, settings, and
character descriptions to relay a theme that people have defining moments as children that can
impact the rest of their life.
Both the authors of The Great Gilly Hopkins and The Book Thief use objects from the
main characters' former life as symbols throughout the book. Paterson inserts the symbol of
Gilly's picture of her mother. This image seems to drive Gilly's personality and gives her hope of
finding her birth mother someday. The author writes, "'For my beautiful Galadriel, I will always
love you.' She wrote that to me, Gilly told herself as she did each time she looked at it, only to
me... The word mother triggered something deep inside her stomach" (9). Through this quote the
author reveals that a defining moment in Gilly's childhood has made this memory of her mother
unfathomably special to her. In comparison, in The Book Thief, Liesel finds a book at the site of
her deceased brother's grave. This book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, is deliberately placed in
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the story by Zusak to symbolize a turning point in Liesel's life. "It didn't really matter what the
book was about. It was what it meant that was more important. 'The book's meaning: the last
time she saw her brother; the last time she saw her mother'"(38). This quote perfectly illustrates
how much this book meant to Liesel as the last tangible memory of her former family.
The settings conveyed by both Zusak and Paterson throughout the novels help to support
the theme of monumental childhood moments. In The Book Thief the author utilizes the truth
that Liesel is "a girl. In Nazi Germany. How fitting that she was discovering the power of words"
(147). Liesel learning the impact that words can have on a culture in such a propaganda-based
world that she was living in is, as an understatement, a marvelous coincidence. This setting will
play a vital role in Liesel's childhood experiences. In contrast to the location in The Book Thief,
the setting of Gilly's new foster home is very sangfroid and quiet. Even the disturbance that Gilly
brings doesn't seem to shake the house. "The house... was old and brown with a porch that gave
it a sort of potbelly... Inside it was dark and crammed with junk. Everything seemed to need
dusting" (3-4). This example from the text demonstrates how this new, very calm place for Gilly
could become a valuable part of defining moments that would happen there.
While some might argue that childhood events cannot determine things in later life, they
fail to realize that defining moments as children can have dramatic effect on lives. The people
around children and their setting, although they may seem insignificant, can have impacts on
their attitude and decisions in life. People have influencing factors on each other and these are
shown at their peaks during childhood. Along with the people and places, the things in one's
childhood that might hold a special meaning have a very large impact on them. Some readers
may interpret this to mean the people, places, and things in a child's life would only have an
impact on their childhood, but clearly that is false because these things can have an impact on
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later life as well. An example of this is in the epilogue of The Book Thief where Death tells
about how greatly Liesel was impacted by the events that occurred in her earlier life.
The authors of both The Great Gilly Hopkins and The Book Thief incorporate character
descriptions in their writing to convey a theme. In his novel, Zusak uses descriptions of Liesel
and her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, to set a foundation for defining moments
throughout the story. The author mentions Liesel’s “German blond” hair and “dangerous” brown
eyes (31). She is also indirectly described as stubborn and headstrong. Hans is explained to be a
tall, kind painter by trade, and his piano accordion skills are mentioned as well. His voice is
described to be gentle, “as if slipping through a crowd” (33). In contrast, Rosa Hubermann is
introduced as short, fiery, and calling everyone Saukerl or Saumensch, “especially the people she
loved” (532). Theme becomes evident also through character development in Paterson’s novel.
First introduced is Gilly, an eleven-year-old foster girl whose goal is to wreak havoc on each
home that takes her in. In the story, she is under the care of Mrs. Maime Trotter who is very
affectionate. From the point of view of Gilly, however, she looks like “a ‘Before’ body with an
‘After’ smile” (5). “Half a small face, topped with mussy brown hair and masked with thick
metal-rimmed glasses, jutted out from behind Mrs. Totter’s mammoth hip” (4). This is how
Gilly’s new foster brother, William Ernest, is described as by Paterson. These descriptions shed
light on how valuable these characters were in Gilly and Liesel’s crucial childhood moments.
Throughout the novels written by Zusak and Paterson a theme of monumental childhood
moments or experiences affecting life is portrayed. Settings in both stories help to set the stage
for the theme to come through. Likewise, symbols interwoven in the text make the theme more
evident to readers. Character descriptions also provide insight for the reader to understand how
important these principal moments are. Authors for both The Book Thief and The Great Gilly
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Hopkins prove also that although books may seem different on their covers, their themes can be
similar and quite impactful.