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The Role of a Novel - The Book Thief

            A novel must engage the reader, or no-one would bother to finish it. To that extent, entertainment, which we might describe as a compelling storyline, is important. But novels do much more than merely entertain, because they provide insight into the human condition that helps us to comprehend the world we live in. They also: challenge our views; let us know we are not alone; and edify us, teaching a moral lesson. All these other, more important aspects, can be seen in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.
             The most important role of a novel is to broaden our understanding of human nature. When a shipment of Jews are paraded through Molching on route to a concentration camp, the novel provides insight into our complex humanity. While some members of the watching crowd boo and cheer, Hans is unable to suppress his selfless instincts and steps forward to offer bread 'like magic' to a starving man 'with eyes the colour of agony.' The guard who cruelly beats both Hans and the Jewish man represents mankind's capacity for unthinking cruelty. We are forced to wonder how we can lack so much empathy for another of our own kind. But Hans' courage is also reflected on a lesser scale by those members of the crowd who quietly help him disappear to keep him safe. The novel reveals that some of us care so much about others, we are prepared to risk our own anonymity and safety. If anything, novels shows that humankind is unpredictable, and unable to categorised as one. Zusak's cynical narrator Death reflects on this, 'so much good, so much evil, just add water.' This choice of narration allows Zusak to observe society from a distance, although even Death is unable to be neutral in the face of evil, 'For me, the sky was the colour of Jews.'.
             Another crucial aspect of novels is that they are able to edify society. From the actions of brave characters like Hans, Liesel and Rudy, the reader sees the importance of standing up for what you believe, of opposing tyranny in all its forms.

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