The Motif of Books and Reading as a Development of The Reader’s Characters
The Reader is a really successful novel by Bernhard Schlink, that was published in 1995. During the period where Germany was trying to rebuild itself after the loss of World War II, Michael Berg meets Hannah Schmitz. Michael, who is the narrator of this story, is a 14 years old boy, suffering from tuberculosis and through that illness he found Hannah, a 35 year old tram conductor, who he started to have an affair with. They beggin to develop a ritual of shower, reading and sex until Hannah dissapears mysteriously. Michael is taken back from her actions and he wonders whether it was his fault of whether he was betrayed by Hannah. After years he meets her again but as a law student observing a court, her court. She loses the court and get imprisoned for being accused of voluntarily working as a guard at the concentration camps. Michael is still attached to her and he sends her recordings of him reading books to her like they used to do. After 17 years, she is left free and Michael offers to take care of her. The day though he was going to collect her she was found dead in her prison cell.
Throughout the novel, a lot of different books are being mentioned in the story and a motif or reading is starting to create. A book is a knowledge device. They contain useful information and give knowledge about life lessons, love, fear and advice. When a person reads they start developing a critical thinking and improve their reasoning skills. Books and reading can set you free in different ways and they can take you whenever you like. Hannah was fascinated by the books and she couldn’t get enough of them, as she was asking Michael to read out loud to her. She would identify herself with the characters of the books and she would drown in her thoughts. Even though Hannah loved reading and books so much, she was not able to read. She was illiterate and due to that fact the books and reading controlled over her life. But when she started to read and write by herself she and her attitude changed.
Hanna in the beginning of the novel was described and shown as a powerful character that had dominance over everybody. Her dominance over Michael was clear when it came to the sexual and everyday life. She would take possession of him and that was shown clear when she put his nickname as puppy (page 68 ‘but gave me other attributes and diminutives, such as a frog or toad, puppy, toy and rose). Hanna had also power over Michael when it came to arguments. She would always make him guilty and make him admit and be sorry for something that he had not done.
She also showed dominance and power in the court, by the way she was dressing and sitting but due to the lack of ‘reading’ people, she was judged harshly. Due to the lack of reading she was unable to interpret contexts and people and the understanding of actions and their consequences. Michael on the contrast was a skillful reader when it came to interpretation of people and actions. He was able to easily find mistakes that were made during the trial both from the judge and Hanna. While on the other hand Hanna couldn’t fully understand the reason why she was on trial. She wore clothes that were similar to the uniforms of the guard from the concentration camp. Due to the lack of reading and understanding she gave the wrong impression to the judges that she cared more about clearing out space rather that caring about the lies of the people she sent to Auschwitz. Her inability to read the written word, the people and to adapt and behave in situations around her lead her to get prisoned for so many years, for something she couldn’t understand.
Hanna showed dominance and power over in the prison. According to the governor ‘Hanna was greatly respected by the other women, to whom she was friendly but reserved’ (page 205). Her dominance is demonstrated from the respect the other women were paying to her. She had authority which was shown to the fact that everybody was asking for her advice and her opinion even in an argument was accepted.
But when she learned to study she changed dramatically. She learned to read during her prisonment from the recordings Michael was sending her. She would take the cassettes and stay in her cell to learn how to read, her cell becomes her shelter and the place where she felt safe with n judgment eyes looking at her. When Michael visited her cell after death, he found books and reports mostly about concentration camps and guards. For Hanna reading and understanding of the concentration camps was important. A prison guard claimed that Hanna ordered books wisely and asked for books especially about women in concentration camps.
Her appearance also changed due to reading and books. In the beginning of the novel she would always take care of her appearance, always tried to look smart and smell fresh and clean. When she started to read she didn’t pay any more attention in her appearance. She began to eat a lot and gain weight and did not washed herself so often which made her to smell. She was not unhappy, it looked like she found a purpose in her life to read and learn about her past.
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