The Reader

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n part II, chapter eight of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, the first-person narrator Michael describes reading the account written by a concentration camp who had survived along with her mother, the soul survivors in a large group of women who were being marched away from the camp. He says, "the book...creates distance. It does not invite one to identify with it and makes no one sympathetic..." The same could be said of The Reader. The book is written in such a way as to distance one from the characters. It prevents people from sympathizing with Hanna or Michael or anyone else, taking a sort of detached viewpoint from their problems. This can be paralleled to the efforts of the German people towards Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or "coping with the past." In coping with Germany's Nazi history, the Germans attempted to distance themselves from it and the moral implications it presented. They tried to understand it without involving themselves in it, since involving themselves could implicate them. The one person in the book who cannot distance herself, Hanna, is still unsympathetic because everyone else distances themselves from her, making it impossible to sympathize with any aspect of her plight. Hanna is symbolic of German history in this respect.

As the narrator, Michael is particularly hard to sympathize with. The way he guides the story eschews emotional attachment. He himself feels detached from almost everything: "....I felt nothing: my feelings were numbed." His detachment transfers to the readers. None of his traits, or any of the situations he comes up against, makes one feel particularly sorry for him. Nothing makes one want to understand what he's going through or where he's coming from. He is simply there, dictating the story, telling us about his feelings without us getting involved. Further alienating is his tendency to fall into tangents which don't relate to the main narrative. These tangents are even harder to muster interest in than the...
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