top-rated free essay

The Reader

By Anne89 Oct 01, 2010 940 Words
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 true point of the book and don't serve any discernible purpose, in the end causing us to separate even further from the story.

Michael's feelings of numbness and alienation--and, subsequently, the feelings of numbess and alienation that are produced in the book's audience--reflect the attempts made by the German people to distance themselves from the spectres of the Nazi past. By detaching and looking at it emotionlessly, they felt, it would be easier to shove it away and ignore it. The past became a sort of gap in German history, a break extending from the end of the Weimar Republic to the Allied occupation. In this sense, the past was not "dealt with" at all, no Vergangenheitsbewältigung took place; the whole matter was sort of shoved aside on an emotional level. This is not true of everyone, perhaps, but Michael's detachment is meant to symbolize the feelings, or lack thereof, of the majority. He attempts to enter the fervor of his fellow students but cannot hold it long; he attempts to condemn Hanna outright but finds he cannot. He cannot successfully bring the past into the emotional realm.

Hanna is just the opposite. She cannot help but bring the past into the emotional realm, because she was there. She experienced it first-hand, and was indeed a part of it--perhaps not an integral part, but it cannot be denied that she took a hand in supporting the Nazis; she was an officer of the SS. She is a living symbol of Germany's Nazi era and therefore inseparable from it. However, everyone else wishes to separate from her, to sentence her and imprison her and forget about her. She is made into a representation of all that the German people wish to leave behind.

Because of that, however, Hanna is just as unsympathetic as Michael is. Since everyone wants to be detached from her, that's exactly what happens to the audience as well; they become attached from Hanna and unable to feel for her or even care about what she's going through. The readers become as aloof as Michael, seeing the situation only through his emotionless eyes. His former love for Hanna totally fails to register during the trial and sentencing, even when he sends her the tapes; he is merely going through the motions the entire time. If there is any feeling behind his actions, the audience is unable to perceive it, therefore making it irrelevant overall. Michael's aloofness consumes his narration and forms a barrier against caring about anything that happens. Thus, Hanna is dealt with the way Germany tries to deal with its tarnished history: it is separated from, suppressed, and forgotten. The war crimes trials are held and a new government with new laws is put into place; on a parallel level, Hanna is imprisoned--and then later kills herself, preventing her memory from surviving even after her release is granted. Although Michael does make a donation in her name to a literacy program, the gesture is tacked on and after the fact, quickly losing any value it might've had as a memorial.

Overall, attempts at establishing sympathy towards the characters of this book are ineffective. This does not make the book a bad one, for it is in a way a reflection of the way many Germans tried to come to terms with the Nazi past. It expresses the peoples' alienation and the desire to just forget about everything that happened. While one might argue that that is not the best approach to Vergangenheitsbewältigung, it is nonetheless the one presented in the book.

(The Reader, Bernhard Schlink)

Cite This Document

Related Documents

  • The Reader

    ...Memory is a powerful concept. Often when an individual undergoes a traumatic situation, the ramifications of these actions seep into an individualfs psyche unknowingly. In effect this passes through memory and becomes sub-consciously buried within a personfs behavioural patterns generally. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink explores the concept ...

    Read More
  • Controlled Reader

    ...An author can only partially structure an experience in an attempt to elicit a desired response from the reader, for there are two types of readers an author must consider: the implied reader and the actual reader. The implied reader is “assumed and created by the work itself” whereas, the actual reader brings his/her own experiences to the ...

    Read More
  • Rhetoric and Reader

    ...Many writers use several diverse ways to persuade readers into believing them. Some writers may tell a story, provide facts and information, or other ideas to encourage his or her reader to agree with the argument. Aristotle's rhetorical triangle describes three diverse appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos is based on facts and reasons ex...

    Read More
  • Comparitive Essay - The reader and Atonement

    ...Essay An act of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to show sorrow for a sin or other wrongdoing. This act can be seen through both the novel The Reader by Bernhard Schlink and the film Atonement directed by Joe Wright. Guilt is a prevailing theme in both Atonement and The Reader. In The Reader, guilt is persistently exp...

    Read More
  • The Reader; Critical Study

    ... Written task 2: Critical Response (essay) How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? “How could it be a comfort that the pain I went through because of my love for Hanna was in a way, the fate of my generation, a German fate…” This quote from Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader illustrates how and why two main socia...

    Read More
  • Characters Effect on a Reader

    ...Characters Effect on a Reader Characters dealing with a situation affect each reader differently. The characters reaction to a situation may have a reader feel exactly as the character does, or in some instances, the reader may look more at how differently they would feel in the same situation. In an attempt to answer Henry James on how ch...

    Read More
  • Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader".

    ...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 u...

    Read More
  • Good Readers Good Writers

    ...Nabokov: Providing a Flood and Lifeboat In Nabokov’s 1948 “Good Readers and Good Writers,” the reader has the opportunity to view the possibilities of a beautiful collision of a major reader and a major writer. This piece discusses reading and writing: skills that have become standardized and slightly devalued as education has advanced....

    Read More

Discover the Best Free Essays on StudyMode

Conquer writer's block once and for all.

High Quality Essays

Our library contains thousands of carefully selected free research papers and essays.

Popular Topics

No matter the topic you're researching, chances are we have it covered.