Life is a lesson built up of the experiences one encounters and the challenges they face. One begins as a newborn and from the moment of reasonable understanding their life is what they make it to be. In order for one to grow one must experience life as the days flow forward, so not to place themselves in another's shoes and miss an experience because of it. There is a reason why people organize others in "age groups": so that they will grow together through the examples each one sets. Expecting to grow properly and learn what one must when put in an unfamiliar generation, is as if trying to teach a person to walk through the example of a whale-both are mammals but are impossible to compare. This is evident in Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, where fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is involved in a secretive, intense, and passionate relationship with thirty-six-year-old Hanna Schmitz. Hanna is leading the relationship so much so that when they fight, regardless of who is right or wrong, Michael always gives in and apologizes in fear of loosing her. He never stands up for himself. As time progresses, Michael takes it upon himself to be present and involve himself in Hanna's trail. Once Michael figures out the secret Hanna is hiding he is thrown into complete confusion on whether to help Hanna and how to execute this. After the trials, towards the end of the novel, Michael is still unsure of how to define his relationship with Hanna. The passionate, secretive relationship that Hanna imposes on Michael stunts his development, which leads to the confusion that dominates his life.
The audience is exposed, in The Reader, to Michael's lack of skill in defending himself against Hanna, due to the intensity of the relationship shared with her and the power of age and sexual dominance she uses to her advantage.
"You want to do it with me in the streetcar too? Kid, kid"...I had not only lost this fight. I had caved in after a short struggle when she threatened to send me away and withhold herself. (Schlink, 49)
Here the reader witnesses Hanna's control in the relationship and how Michael doesn't dare argue in fear of loosing her and what she offers. Even further into their relationship, when the reader imagines Michael has grown, Hanna's power is evidently stronger and although Michael is uneasy about giving in to her, he does in fear of losing her and of her not wanting him.
Then when I proceeded to get bad-tempered myself and we started a fight and Hanna treated me like a nonentity, the fear of losing her returned and I humbled myself and begged her pardon until she took me back. But I was filled with resentment. (Schlink, 73)
Through the relationship and its intensity, Michael is unable to grow and learn to stand up for himself. He is too dependent on Hanna and the thought of not being with her is horrifying to him.
A significant amount of time has passed, between part 1 and part 2, where the reader is aware of Hanna's departure from Michael and her next encounter with him; when she is on trial for war crimes committed during the Holocaust. Michael is sitting in on these trials for a law course he is taking when he encounters Hanna as a defendant. Michael feels obligated, due to their past relationship, and takes it upon himself to be present and involve himself in the trial.
I did not miss a single day of the trial. The other students were surprised. The professor was pleased that one of us was making sure that the next group learned what the last one had heard and seen. (Schlink, 99)
The trial is not going to well for Hanna, it is evident to the reader and to Michael that she is hiding something. With further investigation Michael learns of Hanna's lack of education; how she can't read nor write. Hanna is illiterate. Michael is confused and frustrated on what to do with this knowledge. Should Michael expose this secret to the judge and save Hanna from being sent to prison? Should Michael consult with Hanna first?...
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