The Conflict Between Condemnation And Understanding in The Reader By Bernhard Schlink
In the novel, The Reader, published by Bernhard Schlink in 1955, the conflict between condemnation and understanding is one of the major overarching themes. In this story, Michael falls in love with Hannah Schmitz but further in the story realizes that she has played an important role in a terrible nazi event. He has trouble understanding what he is feeling. The book explores this conflict in court, this conflict between the two lovers, and finally a takeaway that each individual reader has understand for himself.
As Hannah is put on trial, she is confused as she is illiterate and decides to take the fall for all of the events even though she didn’t do the whole thing. She doesn’t realize that it is as bad as it actually is. She doesn’t have mens rea, only the actus rea, as she was simply following orders. The court is confused at first but then condemned her for a life in jail as they cant be undecided and have en liquet. It has been resolved in criminal court. It is made clear in the text that doing nothing to stop the events is the same thing as participating in them. Michael, throughout the whole body of literature, is looking for justice for the nazi’s behavior. This is seen with his career choice as well as his attendance at Hannah’s trial, even before knowing she was involved. Furthermore, there are some strong feelings of shame throughout the text. Indeed, the second generation is finally learning what actually happened and has to deal with the first generation. Michael has difficulty feeling true anger because of his love for Hannah.
The love story is a metaphor for the clear uncomfortable cohabitation between the 2 generations.She decides to kill herself as the dead understand. The conflict spreads from the court room to the two protagonists. Michael feels guilty of loving her. With the inherited money, he donates it to a jewish charity for illiteracy. It is not resolved as ever since she was on trial, they didn’t have a conversation, there was no closure. His way of moving forward is with the charity, and researching to come to peace with the coexistence of the two generations. He has to understand that that he has to accept what has happened and move forward. Michael is condemned because his whole life is now based around this incident. He is unable to sustain a real relationship and is confused. In order to move forward, Germany and its people have to deal with the nazi events.
At the end of the novel, the daughter doesn’t accept the money because if she does, it means that she forgives her and would release her of the responsibility. Michael feels guilty about the affair with Hanna, it is something which he can’t yet reveal to anyone. Yet even after she leaves Michael, Michael very clearly still loves her due to his constant thoughts and longing for her. Even when he thinks he is over her and is “numb”, we see that he still notices key things about the way she holds herself in court- this was one of the things he originally fell in love with. This clearly shows that his love for her never died, it perhaps just dulled its appearance while he tried to distract himself from it. There is a large amount of sadness that Michael had from the fact that Hanna kept these things from Michael such as her illiteracy and involvement in the holocaust, especially when it appeared he trusted her with a lot. Hanna evidently holds sadness for having been illiterate and uneducated seen clearly through her alienation with books and wanting Michael to read to her even on tape when she is in prison. Although Hanna’s feelings about leaving Michael so suddenly aren’t discussed, we have to assume she would have felt a sense of sadness at having to leave him with no reason and thinking she would never see him again. Hannah feels guilty of being illiterate, it is seen as she wants people to read to her so that she can learn. She prefers to suffer the consequences of the whole entire crime instead of revealing her dark secret. Implicitly, there are past events that she doesn’t own up to, because she never answers clearly when Michael asks about her past.
Throughout the novel, there is reference to Hanna bathing a lot, this could simply be a metaphor for her trying to wash away the guilt from her past actions. Accepting money is accepting apology. Not resolved, Germany lives with this past forever. Reader is left with his own understanding with his own experiences. Hannah or everybody else was put in the trolley situation. They could have either gotten killed or killed all of the people in the church.
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