“The Reader”, by Bernhard Schlink follows Michael Berg, a young man, following his relationship with Hanna Schmitz, a former Nazi guard. Schlink uses communication between Michael and Hanna as a metaphor to explore the relationship between the first and second generation, showing how they are disconnected. Schlink uses different modes of communication, such as: reading aloud, letters, tapes throughout to explore the relationship between the first and second generation, which is displayed as distanced. This distance is bridged through communication but Michael, the second generation, remains detached. The first generation are those who were participants in the Second World War, while the second generation are their descendents who have grown up in the shadow of the events of the Second World War.
The events of the Second World War significantly influenced the childhoods of the second generation. Schlink believed that the second generation carried a burden of guilt for the actions of the first generation, and were also the generation which took responsibility for the actions of the first generation; their parents. He reflects this belief throughout the novel, “The Reader”. Schlink uses an illicit relationship between a 15 year boy and 36 year old woman to explore the relationship between the first and second generation and to show how intertwined they were. Reading aloud is a motif used by Schlink to display the relationship between Michael and Hanna as unconventional through the use of a reversed dynamic. This reversed dynamic is emphasised by having Michael as the younger member in the relationship, as usually an older woman and younger man is seen as immoral in comparison to a relationship featuring an older man with a younger woman. In addition, Schlink has Michael reading to Hanna; this is the opposite of what would happen in the mother-son relationship that they demonstrate, further highlighting how their link is different from an average relationship. Near to the start of the novel, we see how Hanna constantly wants to have Michael read to her, resulting in him reading to her very often.
As well as this, Michael began to be late for dinner due to reading, “It all happened because of reading aloud”1; even the risk of exposure of their relationship does not deter Hanna from having Michael read to her. This shows recklessness on her part and a lack of care on Michaels; it also shows a reflection of the first and second generation, the first generation had a lack of care about the Nazis, and how the second generation had to suffer due to this. In the text Michael thinks to himself that, “She was an attentive listener”2, this indicates that he thought highly of her; even though this is one of the only parts of the relationship. Hanna also shows that she’s dominant in the relationship, “Read me something from them. Please, kid?”3. Physical Communication is displayed in the novel, through the use of the sexual relationship, as a means of communication between Hanna and Michael. This is shown by having Michael only learn Hanna’s first name after them being together multiple times, showing how they mainly communicate in a physical way at first; this slow learning can also reflect how they have very little emotional connection between them. The lack of emotional commitment and communication between Hanna and Michael is also one of the potential reasons for their undoing and their unhealthy relationship, this can be viewed as a metaphor for how the first and second generation had little communication; leading to difficulty in forming bond.
Furthermore, Schlink is exploring identity and history here This is displayed by Michael, who is shown to have little emotional communication with his own parents. Their relationship was also damaged by this and led to the relationship between Hanna and Michael being disjointed and broken. The relationship displayed between Michael and Hanna is partly erotica and partially maternal, standing for the ambivalent relationship of present-day Germany and its Nazi past: the past stands for the “mother” of Michael’s generation, and as Michael eventually finds out similarly to other Germans of his generation, that his “parents” were guilty. The motif of illiteracy is used to highlight how far Hanna will go to hide her lack of reading and writing ability, she does many things, including deflecting questions on why she has Michael read to her, “You have such a nice voice, kid, I’d rather listen to you than read it myself.”4 Hanna’s illiteracy affects the relationship between her and Michael as it affects how they communicate, such as when Michael writes a letter to Hanna when he goes to get breakfast, which read “Good morning! Bringing breakfast, be right back”5. She turns to physical violence when Michael comes back to hide the fact that she is unable to read. This in turn highlights that Michael cannot leave Hanna even after being attacked, a possible metaphor for how the second generation are unable to leave the first generation behind, and in turn go back to them.
Moreover, after this attack, he blames himself and asks for Hannas forgiveness; showing that he’s unable to leave her. Hanna’s illiteracy is also the reason for why she was given a life sentence, due to her rather admitting to writing a report on the church fire then complying with a demand to provide a handwriting sample. This shows how ashamed she was of being illiterate and shining some light onto why she had people reading to her, such as Michael and the girls she chose from the concentration camp, as well as this it shows why Hanna physically attacked Michael when they went on holiday.
Schlink uses Hanna’s illiteracy to put her into situations which would easily be resolved by someone who could read or write, this in turn shows how a lack of communication can be both dangerous and straining. Furthermore, by doing this Schlink is able to change the meaning of parts of the book when Hanna is revealed to be illiterate; giving further meaning to the book. During the 20th century Germany had the highest literacy rate in Europe; this suggests that Hanna’s illiteracy represented the ignorance that allowed ordinary people to commit atrocities, such as the final solution.The motif of reading is used by Schlink to display how the first generation make the second generation do things for them; such as taking responsibility for the war, or taking the guilt for the war. The theme of guilt is explored by Schlink to make Michael feel more guilt for the crimes of the first generation, and to make Hanna feel less guilt. This reflects how the first generation took less responsibility for the war crimes of the Nazis then the second generation. When Michael reads aloud to Hanna, a poem he reads is The Odyssey; which is an ancient Greek epic poem that features entrapment as a plot device to develop the main character; Odysseus. The usage of The Odyssey by Schlink is an example of dramatic irony that is used to explore the relationship between Hanna and Michael.
Schlink uses this poem specifically to show how the relationship between Michael and Hanna is abnormal; in the sense that there are many things wrong about it such as physical violence and the inequality between them. Reading is also something that Hanna makes Michael do often, specifically to her; “So read to me”. This is a metaphor for how Michael is the one who provides for the relationship, a metaphor for how the second generation are the ones who provide for the first generation. Furthermore, Michael continues to read aloud to Hanna through cassette; even after she has learned to read. This indicates that Michael reading to Hanna is symbolism of Michael wanting to be needed by Hanna and wanting to retain dominance in the one area of their relationship in which he had any control. The tapes are a metaphor used by Schlink to represent a resurrection of Michael and Hanna’s previous relationship, as Michael would often read aloud to Hanna before they slept together. The cassettes mean that Michael is able to continue his relationship with her, while also representing his distance. Furthermore, Michael never leaves Hanna any personal messages on the tapes and also never writes back to her, even after she learns how to read.
It is used as a device by Schlink to display how the two generations remain separate, even after reconciliation. The tapes are the “small niche, certainly an important niche” that allow Michael to have any form of control in the relationship, In conclusion, Bernhard Schlink uses different modes of communication to explore the relationship between the first and second generation. However, these differences are presented through Hanna and Michael and the use of the first person of Michael gives a skewed representation of the relationship, and gives a biased view. Word Count: 1479 WordsAdd quotes for points, and then add bibliography, etc.
Read modal essay