Use of World War II as well as

Use of Perspective in Changing the Perception of World War II in The Book Thief and Salt to the SeaSubject: English A1 Category 1January 2018Word Count: 3,870 Table of Contents: Introduction (339):         1Background (337):         2Development (2,913):                      3-10Author’s Intent/Opinions (The Book Thief)(585)Author’s Intent/Opinions (Salt to the Sea)(742)Overarching Themes (The Book Thief)(798)Overarching Themes (Salt to the Sea)(788)Conclusion (286):           11Works Cited:         12 Introduction:A key element to the realm of literature is the use of perspective and varying point of views the author implements in their work. Whether or not the author purposely chooses to highlight the direction of the point of view, perspective often provides insight into the author’s intent and personal opinions while subtly but surely revealing the overall theme. This paper will compare two works of historical fiction, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and will ask the question, “In what ways do the unique perspectives created in The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea impact the reader’s perception of World War II?”. Both authors have taken unique approaches to perspectives and share common effects on the reader’s perception of World War II by revealing their personal intentions and emphasizing the themes presented in their stories. By implementing different forms of narration, the authors successfully alter the audience’s mindset regarding the events of World War II as well as the true underlying meaning and effect on the general population. This research question is worthy of investigation because it not only explores the impact of perspective in literature, but it also has never been investigated in such circumstances. By focusing on solely utilizing both works for analysis, and not relying on any secondary sources for generalized trends or secondhand interpretations, the paper will highlight the impact of perspective on perception of aspects of bias, intent, and opinion on the subject matter. With the data gathered and notes made on the literary techniques and applications that bring forth the author’s hidden thoughts and undiscovered themes, the conclusion becomes clear.The conclusions drawn from this investigation will enable a greater understanding of each author’s personal opinions of World War II and the form in which they have expressed them to their audience. Not only does this serve to emphasize the impact of perspective but it will also clarify the capability to transform opinions through literature, especially regarding large-scale, controversial occurrences such as WWII.Background: Before analyzing each work, it is imperative to introduce the background information behind each novel and discuss the context of both. To begin with, The Book Thief is set in Germany in January of 1939, where Hitler has been self-declared “führer,” or leader, for more than four years. In the novel, there are indirect references to the Nuremberg Laws, which were implemented in 1935, and declared anyone with Jewish blood non-Aryan, thereby removing their civil rights. Anyone considered an enemy of the Nazi Party was arrested and sent to labor camps in Dachau, including Communists and Socialists. Germans were encouraged to boycott Jewish businesses and hold book burnings to destroy non-patriotic texts and sixty percent of German youth were members of the youth group Hitlerjugend, or Hitler Youth. In June 1941, Germany invaded Russia and continued until the end of the war, resulting in over 30 million deaths due to combat, starvation, and disease. In the novel, the main character Liesel Meminger’s story ends in October of 1943, with the Allied bombing of Munich, Stuttgart, and her fictional hometown of Molching.Salt to the Sea is set around the same time frame and is centered around the Wilhelm Gustloff incident. Wilhelm Gustloff was the name of a German ocean liner taken down by a Soviet submarine on January 30th, 1945. Known as the worst maritime tragedy in history, the ship killed not only Germans, but also Prussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Estonians and Croatians. World War II is drawing to an end, and the Soviet army is advancing, and as a result, 10,582 people are packed into a cruise ship meant to hold around 1,900. Many passengers onboard are Nazis while others are victims of Nazi aggression, leading to tension and severe inspection onboard, as paralleled through the novel. When three torpedoes hit the ship, the passengers greatly outnumbered the amount of lifeboats available, and many of the lifeboats present are frozen to the ship. The majority of the passengers drown, leaving approximately 1,230 survivors and 9,343 dead.Development:I. Author’s Intent/Opinions (The Book Thief)In The Book Thief, Zusak’s use of Death as an omnipresent narrator emphasizes his own opinions of war and how it represents inhumane destruction and harm to society. Markus Zusak writes the novel with a special character, who most often serves as a narrator, named Death. Death has stumbled upon the story of Liesel Meminger as he has gone through his dreary daily duties of collecting souls. As he often states in the novel, Death uses learning as a coping mechanism, reading deeply into the stories of the souls he collects and also using colors to depict human beings instead of their other gory physical attributes. Death states at one point directly, “First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least how I try” (Zusak 7). Death narrates the novel by reading Liesel’s journal book story, all the while adding his own commentary and information that is crucial in determining the author’s true feelings as he mirrors his own ideas through Death. Through the use of colors, Death hopes to avoid reality, giving the idea that the author also wishes to hide the violent details of war and simply see it from more of a symbolic, repressed, and holistic point of view.Death is present in the novel from a limited first person point of view that also appears to be omnipresent. Although Death is not necessarily all-knowing and is bounded by Himmel Street and Liesel’s general community, he is aware of all that is going on outside of her community and makes various allusions to the war-related events in excerpts as the story progresses. During the later part of the novel, as the war is worsening, Death describes the situation in his eyes, stating that, “They say that war is Death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing incessantly, ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So, you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more” (Zusak 212). In this series of statements, Death reveals his knowledge on the war around him and the inhumanity of it all. The author’s opinions share this same idea of disgust and despondency, as he also lived through a wartime as a child and some of his direct experiences are written into the novel, such as watching the Jews march by his neighborhood and visibly crumple under Hitler’s rule. This idea of disgust and traumatization is also evident in Zusak’s statement, “A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR I am haunted by humans” (Zusak 369). These last words hit the reader the hardest, as Death, the almighty, dark, dangerous character, where all of the worst creations lie, is haunted by human nature and its lack of sympathy. This verbal irony serves to clearly emphasize Zusak’s opinion that humanity has become horrific, tainted, and capable of destroying the world, both physically and emotionally. Zusak employs irony yet again when Death states, “It kills me sometimes, how people die” (Zusak 316). Death is a character who often directly relays the author’s matured opinions through his unphased, tired, and hopeless attitude. Death has become accustomed to human beings and their presence, but is revolted by what he encounters along the way: the vast power of the human race and the era’s destruction with no heart or soul left behind. II. Author’s Intent/Opinions (Salt to the Sea)In Salt to the Sea, author Ruta Sepetys implements multiple points of views in order to make up for the gaping hole in history and the lack of justice in the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ruta Sepetys, according to her author’s note, spent an extensive amount of time recovering information, finding sources, and documenting any inkling of accurate context regarding the Gustloff tragedy. In the story, she includes the quote from one of her characters, “War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost” (Sepetys 192). Although thousands of lives were lost and the story she has written is the greatest maritime tragedy in history, Sepetys emphasizes her intent; there is still room for improvement. The phrase “lost but not forgotten” comes to mind as Sepetys implies their memory can and will be commemorated through this novel and its publication. Listening to other people’s stories and finding photos that had never been released before opened her eyes to the incident and pushed her to write a story with four different perspectives (Polish, Lithuanian, Prussian/Russian, and German) in order to give light to the truth of the mysterious sinking, regardless of the side of the story. Sepetys reflects her beliefs and opinions through the vastly different perspectives of her work through the four unique ethnicities she presents. Throughout literature, the main purpose behind including multiple points of view is to implement as much information as possible and include as many perspectives as possible in order to intrigue and captivate an audience while also creating a reliable narration and account of the story. This technique allows the reader to understand and acknowledge the main conflict as well as the opinion of the author that lies beneath. For example, one interesting structural choice made includes lines from each perspective, “Guilt is a hunter. Fate is a hunter. Shame is a hunter. Fear is a hunter” (Sepetys 10). Each word describes the victims of war, murdered by guilt, fate, shame, and fear, ultimately characterizing each perspective and their individual intentions and weaknesses. Sepetys paints a portrait of the context of the event and, similarly to the technique of Zusak, implements her own thoughts into the words of her characters through common literary techniques such as characterization, rhetoric, and imagery. With the characters she develops, Sepetys includes appropriate commentary and personality while also portraying her own ideas, such as through the sarcastic yet quiet Florian, she writes, “What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?” (Sepetys 46). Although Florian represents the Prussian/Russian enemy perspective, his character is still able to see the downfall and natural faults of humanity due to our problematic inherent evil state through rhetorical question. Through imagery, the author describes the impact of war on the characters in that moment as well as the lasting effect it has on society today, describing how “War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray” (Sepetys 134). This weather imagery refers to the war as a storm, destroying everything that comes in its path and leaving behind rubble and lack of color (both physically and emotionally) within the souls of society. The terror behind Hitler’s reign, in both novels, left behind nothing but grey, dull sorrow and lack of emotion to react to the grave sin he and his army had committed. Finally, through the use of diction, Sepetys defines her true opinion on the matter through Joana’s statement of, “Killers aren’t always assassins. Sometimes, they don’t even have blood on their hands” (Sepetys 88). Joana, representing the angelic savior of the group, provides this rather dark statement that stands out against her sweet, pure character. Sepetys, aware of the contrasting meaning behind the statement and the character she has created, purposely includes this statement to influence the audience’s opinions and dictate her opinion on humankind’s vulnerability to pressure, violence, and oppression such as in Hitler’s destructive rule.Through his time as leader, in both novels, Hitler has created an army of men that ignores all good, naturally present features of human beings and relentlessly murders populations. Both authors implement unique perspectives in their novels to indirectly express their voices and pass on their thoughts and beliefs to the readers to be appreciated and brought to light through the emotional connection with the characters and point of view they have created. III. Overarching Themes (The Book Thief) Throughout The Book Thief, Markus Zusak implements the themes of the power of words and the degradation of human beings in society through Death and his commentaries. Zusak utilizes these themes in order to not only present his conflicting views regarding war and the destruction it has caused but also to demonstrate the story’s “moral” with hopes of instilling this idea into the audience. The theme of the power of words can be seen through the beautiful work of Liesel and her passion for reading, writing, and learning the beauty and ability of communication. However, in her case, she has seen the horror as well, through the words of Hitler. The theme of degradation of human beings is apparent both physically and emotionally as Death witnesses what society has come to and shows, as a historical fiction novel always should, the past and how inflicted we were as a society by the unity under one man. The power of words can be seen simply through the extended metaphor of Liesel’s passion for learning to read, along with her love for her father and spending that time with him. As the story progresses and Liesel’s experiences become tainted by the war around her, she decides to put her emotion into her writing and her passion for words blossoms. Motivated by the power of words, she states, “The words.Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing” (Zusak 350). Liesel has come to the realization that Hitler has not inflicted physical pain upon any Jew himself, rather instilled the willpower to do so into an army of men through words. She realizes that the pen is truly mightier than the sword and that no other mechanism or weapon is as destructive as language, which is why she deems it appropriate to share her story and her pain through written words. Once she finishes her masterpiece, she humbly states, “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right” (Zusak 354). Liesel’s passion for writing arose from the inspiration of Max, the Jewish fugitive who wrote her stories, and she felt the same love flow through her as she wrote. Although words have constantly caused her and her loved ones pain and suffering, she continues to write in hopes of bringing light the the horrors of her life, similar to what Sepetys and Zusak had when writing their own novels. Liesel also writes with the intention and knowledge that language is the most powerful mechanism of expressing and persuading the audience into believing and accepting her message, which is mirrored in both Sepetys and Zusak.The theme of degradation of human beings is directly related to the presence of Death and his commentary on Liesel’s life and the war that encases her. In the beginning of the novel, on page 14, Death introduces the importance of the colors black, red, and white through a drawing. This brief, mysterious mention of the colors is simply a form of reinstituting the Nazi record (as the colors of the Nazi flag) throughout the novel and its luring, hidden presence behind all moments of that time period. Though Liesel does not consider herself a Nazi, all people residing in Germany and even the other countries affected by the war bleed red, white, and black colors as their souls are tainted by Hitler’s regime and are therefore degraded as human beings. Death comments several times while collecting souls his changing, darkening opinions of humans, such as when he states, “If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it” (Zusak 243). This statement reflects Zusak’s self-pity and regrets of his past, in which as a child he was so oblivious and foolish, unaware of the disaster around him and how Liesel is a mirror image of himself. In this moment, Death is Markus Zusak watching over his own childhood and reflecting emotionally, indicating how Death’s unique perspective simply serves as Zusak’s outlet of wisdom and beliefs based on his own experiences. Following this theme of human degradation, Death states, “I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and brilliant” (Zusak 366). Once again, Death is haunted by humanity and its atrocities, and how such powerful words that once constituted society’s greatest heights and achievements now marks the lowest of humankind and its failures to teach proper morals and values.IV. Overarching Themes (Salt to the Sea)In Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea, she discusses the overarching themes of human cruelty as well as human companionship as the four points of view intertwine to fight for their lives aboard ship. Sepetys contrasts human cruelty against companionship through characters such as Alfred and Emilia, one incredibly evil and brainwashed by the power of Hitler’s words and beliefs and the other innocent and vulnerable, fighting for her life and pride to survive. One side represents gross, ignorant cruelty and the other shows love, vulnerability, and companionship. These starkly different themes arise as a result of the varying points of view created by the author in which the combination of relationships, backstories, and current thoughts combined to become one coherent story. Sepetys’s novel revolves around the idea of companionship and cruelty in the times of Hitler, with many races and identities fighting against the almighty, supreme Germany. The characterization and interaction between the shoe poet and young boy draws out our emotion as an audience to sympathize and creates hope for survival for such pure, brilliant people. The shoe poet represents the charming, elderly source of wisdom and compassion that society so desperately needs, as he states, “‘The shoes always tell the story,’…” (Sepetys 16). The quirky, down to earth stories that the older man tells and relays to the entire group creates a sense of companionship, especially between him and the young boy. This foreshadows the shift in generations as the wisdom passes down to the youth, who so clearly idolizes and grows to love for the shoe poet. Florian’s character is characterized by Ruta to represent a separate story that was hidden completely and deserves recognition as it represents an inner-circle hatred towards the cruel Nazis who truly destroy humans and all they have left, including their most prized possessions. Florian served under two inherently evil men who stole artwork from all over Europe and placed them in their own museums to claim as their own work, using Florian’s talent and skill to recover and restore such masterpieces. Florian’s father, in the heat of an argument, stated, “‘No, son,’ pleaded my father. ‘Not a traitor to your country. Much worse. A traitor to your soul'” (Sepetys 30). Florians evil, cruel work did not necessarily constitute an evil personality. As shown through the perspectives Sepetys provides us with, Florian proves to help the situation at hand and use his forces for good to save the lives of others, proving his placement in companionship. However, Florian’s source of human cruelty is still obvious, as he states himself, “I became good at pretending. I became so good that after a while the lines blurred between my truth and fiction. And sometimes, when I did a really good job of pretending, I even fooled myself” (Sepetys 78). Referring to his forgery, Florian realizes the influence of his job on his morals and human nature, turning into the enemy and obliviously completing the assigned deeds without consideration of what the project could symbolize. Sepetys includes Florian as a middle ground between good and evil to attract attention towards his transition in the presence of Joana.In contrast, Emilia is an image of pure innocence and kindness, although she has dark doubts and a tragic history, as seen through her nightmarish statement, “But unlike Mama, I would not go to heaven. My secrets padlocked the gates. I’d be a torn kite stuck in the dead branches of a tree, unable to fly” (Sepetys 116). Emilia’s past rape has clouded her vision to believe she is at fault and that she has turned into the filth that Hitler has assigned all Polish people. Emilia is the victim of human cruelty in the novel and she produces a daughter at the end who is the figurative form of growing out of the cruel time period into a new, accepting, open era. As the four perspectives arrive at the end of the novel, they disappear and fade away and end with only Florian and Joana left to survive, symbolizing the fading away of Nazis and the diminished Polish population for some time, allotting time to grow and recover both physically and emotionally. Emilia’s final words represent this transition, as she states, “How foolish to believe we are more powerful than the sea or the sky” (Sepetys 174). Referring to the situation at the time, nothing is more powerful than the forces of nature, which no human should dare to reckon with. This divine force of the sea and sky are similar to Death in The Book Thief, as both forces represent superior powers that will conquer and correct all of humanity’s mistakes and prevent total destruction from occurring under such terroristic leaders as Hitler.Conclusion:The perception of World War II across the globe is commonly one of regret, sorrow, and distaste towards the actions of humankind and its devastating effect. Based on the depiction of the war in both The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea, this perception remains the same but is affected by the additional perspective of the civilian ranging from youth, families, and the working class. Through both novel’s different form of narration and presentation of the plot, the reader experiences different perceptions of the war and its impact on different characters and groups of people, such as Death’s narration of a child’s journalled life and four starkly different interpretations and reactions to the Wilhelm Gustloff’s sinking. The unique use of perspective creates a pure, raw, and quite emotional atmosphere through the reader’s newfound ability to receive the firsthand pain and suffering of the characters. Throughout both works, the use of perspectives enforces the author’s truth and intention in revealing and exposing history and what the government and historians have possibly hidden from us (as historical fiction novels should). The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea both use point of view in different formats to emphasize the strong overarching themes developed as well as to reveal hidden or unknown aspects of the events of World War II and their lasting impression on the world today. There is clear limitation in the aspect of interpretation and the myriad of interpretations of these novels and the respective author’s intent in relaying these events of history. Along with this limitation, the essay leaves an unresolved question on how historical fiction can change history and the extent of truth that these novels can provide underneath fictional characters and places. Works CitedSepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. Follettbound, 2017.Zusak, Markus, and Trudy White. The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.


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