Date of Award

Summer 2017

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Alexandra Valint

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Katherine Cochran

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Monika Gehlawat

Committee Member 3 Department



While critics have discussed Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005) in terms of the Holocaust, its generic hybridity, and its crossover readership for child and adult audiences, I offer the first narratological reading of its unusual narrator: Death. This reading focuses on the rhetorical strategies underlying Death’s contradictory narration, which is at once anthropomorphized and constitutively nonhuman. Scholars of The Book Thief often assume the narrator’s omniscience, but I find that Death is crucially not omniscient; rather, he merely performs omniscience to mask his humanlike limitations. Since current terminology falls short of describing Zusak’s narration, I propose the new classification of “performative omniscience” to describe a narrator who strategically pretends to be omniscient, though natural explanations prove he is not. In this new reading I argue that Zusak limits his unnatural narrator to performative omniscience in order to dismantle all performances of omniscience, particularly the “Hitler myth” advanced by the Nazi Party. To teach readers this lesson on the constructedness of all totalizing narratives, Death recruits the reader’s trust through his humanlike engaging narration, which builds the credibility of his performance of omniscience.