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Generational Perspectives on the War in The Reader

By hihi45 Mar 10, 2014 1241 Words

Generational Perspectives on the War in The Reader
        In the book The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, the main character Michael Berg encounters several characters that lived in Germany during the Nazi regime. Through these encounters Bernhard Schlink depicts the differences in perspective between the generation born after the war and those who lived through it. These differences lead to awkwardness and conflict and show the difficulty of these two generations to reach a resolution.     The first character Michael meets, Hannah Scmitz, an ex-member of the SS guards who was 20 years older than him. This encounter provides the first example of a difference in perspective resulting from Hannah having been raised during the Nazi regime. Despite their relationship they have an argument due to their conflicting views on the significance of schooling. When Michael and Hannah were talking and enjoying their afternoon at Hannah’s place, Michael told her that he was supposed to be in school, but he had missed too much of tenth grade, thus if he wanted to pass the class he had to work like “an idiot” (Schlink 35). After that, Wu 2

Hanna was really furious. She was disappointed that Michael took the matter of education lightly. She scolded Michael “Out. Get out of my bed. And if you don’t want to do your work, don’t come back. Your work is idiotic? Idiotic? What do you think selling and punching tickets is?” (Schlink 35). When Hannah mentioned the job of “selling and punching ticket”, it shows that she understands the importance of education and how education can bring one a better job and a better future. Thus, if Michael ends up having low education, he may not get a job with decent payment. From this conversation, it shows how these two characters have very different values. Hannah grew up in a time where they didn’t have the opportunity to study. She understands that without good education, it’s hard for one to find a good job. On the other hand, Michael, having grown up after the fall of the Nazis does not understand the value of the opportunities he has. While he thinks choosing Hannah over education is worth it, Hannah sees it as foolish. Their differences in opinion about education are connected to the period of time which they grew up in.  Similarly, the interaction between Michael and his father shows the awkwardness resulting from his father having lived through the Nazi regime. When Michael has problems, he often asks his father for advice and suggestions. Michael Wu 3

stated, “When we children wanted to speak to our father, he gave us appointments just like his students.” This shows that their relationship is not like a normal family relation. The need to make an appointment to talk to his own father shows that they couldn’t openly express themselves and they are in fact very distant. Michael states that his father was “undemonstrative, and could neither share his feelings with us children nor deal with the feelings we had for him.” (Schlink 139) Perhaps, Michael sees his father as very strict and repressed which could have come from his father’s experience with the Nazis. This point of view is further expressed when Michael states, “Perhaps he had been full of emotion as a young man, and by giving them no outlet they had withered and died.” (Schlink 139) In the novel it mentions how his father lost his job for giving a lecture on Spinzona during the Nazi regime. Due to the fact he was restricted from doing what he wanted to, he became much more conservative and formal, hence he is emotionally stiff and does not easily express his emotions to Michael nor Michael’s three siblings. Furthermore, his inability to offer Michael advice exacerbates the difficulties Michael has with Hannah. When Michael asks questions about Hannah, his father replied to him, “I haven’t been able to help you.” (Schlink 144) While they are both aware of their differences, they still can’t resolve it. This is because their perspectives and Wu 4

philosophies are so different. No matter what the father suggested to him, he could never agree. Nor could his father come up with other ideas that could relate to him. This awkwardness roots from the conservative nature his father needed to develop in order to survive the Nazi regime. In addition to his relationship to his father and Hanna, Michael also meets a taxi driver who has differing views on the war.  When Michael is on his way to Struthof concentration camp, a taxi driver shares with Michael his view about the executioners in the concentration camps. He fiercely states that, “an executioner is not under orders. He’s doing his work, he doesn’t hate the people he executes, and he’s not taking revenge on them.” (Schlink 151) After the driver finished in expressing how he thinks about the executioner. Michael wanted to “search for a word, a sentence that would erase what he had said and strike him dumb.” (Schlink 151) Michael’s action shows that he’s trying to say something that can disprove what driver said which means that he does not agree with the driver. To make the driver notice that he is disagreeing with him, Michael wanted to “strike him dumb”. The driver told him that the reason the executioners are treating these people cruelly is not because they hate them or they want to, but because it is their duty and job, so

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they had to do it. From his perspective, there was no other options for them. While Michael’s inner thoughts

and actions show that he was really opposed to the driver’s view. The driver is a “middle-aged “(Schlink 149) man, who had lived under Nazi Regime, while Michael is a college student of the post-war generation. Theiropposing views come from the way they perceive the war. While the taxi driver has first-hand experience, Michael has created his own ideas about what happened during the war from hearing stories from people he knows such as Hannah and his father. Michael can’t understand the Taxi driver’s view because he didn’t live during that time.     In conclusion, most of the conflict between Michael and the other characters in the Reader result from an inability to reach an agreement because he doesn’t understand what they lived through. The conversation between Michael and Hannah about the education shows that Hannah has very different ideas because the opportunity for education was not available to her during the time of Nazi rule. Also, Michael’s opposition to the driver’s perspective on the executioners shows that people from post-wargeneration will have different attitudes, even towards the same issues. These discordant views come from the fact they have different Wu 6

experiences, therefore they have constructed different ideas about the same event. These strong differences in opinion could be destructive to relationships as was the case with Michael and his father who could not relate to one another. The post-war generation is not comfortable discussing decisions that they have decided were unethical. The best example of this is when Hanna asked the question in court, “what would you have done?” Like Michael, the people in the court don’t want to consider past events in a different way and this leads to conflict.  

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Word count: 1211

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Works Cited
Schlink, Bernhard. & Carol, Brown. Janeway. The Reader. New York Vintage, 1998. Print

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