The Reader

The Reader

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Michael Berg

The story’s protagonist and narrator, who as a fifteen-year-old boy has an affair with an older woman named Hanna, only to discover years later that his lover was once a Nazi prison guard. Born… (read full character analysis)

Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)

Michael’s lover and the story’s antagonist. Often described by Michael as “tired,” Hanna’s emotions, motivations, and personalities can be seen only through the eyes of Michael, who is often conflicted about her. Older than… (read full character analysis)

Michael’s Father

A philosophy professor who is distant from his wife and children. Though he doesn’t appear often in the story, Michael’s father and their relationship are mentioned more often than his other family members. Growing… (read full character analysis)

The Jewish Woman / The Daughter

The daughter (nameless in the book) who had survived, with her mother, in the church fire in which Hanna was complicit. During Hanna’s trial, she gives testimony that the secret activities between Hanna and the… (read full character analysis)

The Prison Warden

The warden of Hanna’s prison seems to care sincerely for the welfare of Hanna and the other prisoners. She writes to Michael to inform him of Hanna’s release and ask for his help, and… (read full character analysis)
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The Driver

The driver who allows Michael to hitchhike with him to Struthof, a nearby concentration camp. When Michael tells the driver where he is going, the man rants that it was not hatred of the Jews… (read full character analysis)

The Judge

The judge who presides over Hanna’s trial. Michael observes the judge’s near constant expression of annoyance, especially at Hanna’s contradictions to certain claims about her. When Hanna asks the judge what he would have… (read full character analysis)

Gertrud

Michael’s wife, and later ex-wife. A law clerk and later a judge, Gertrud is described by Michael as “smart, efficient, and loyal.” Michael marries Gertrud after she becomes pregnant with their daughter Julia(read full character analysis)

Michael’s mother

Michael’s mother seldom appears in the story, and as Michael’s girlfriend Gesina notes, he rarely mentions her when discussing his past. However, the initiation of Michael’s affair with Hanna evokes in Michael a childhood… (read full character analysis)

Michael’s older brother

Like Michael’s other siblings, his brother also appears only rarely in the novel. Michael tells us that he shared a room with his brother and as young boys they often fought, either physically or… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Julia
The daughter of Gertrud and Michael. Julia is five when her parents divorce. Her unhappiness at seeing her parents’ marriage fall apart fills Michael with sorrow and guilt, causing him to try harder in his relationships.
Michael’s older sister
Michael’s older sister rarely appears in the novel but is described as “the confidante of all my childhood secrets.” Michael imagines that if he had confessed to her that he was fantasizing about Hanna, she would not scold him but rather “lecture [him] with loving concern.”
Michael’s younger sister
The youngest of the Berg family. Michael’s little sister is described as “cheeky.” When Michael plans to stay home alone, she blackmails him into shoplifting clothes for her.
Sophie
Michael’s friend and crush from high school. A few years after Hanna leaves Michael, he briefly dates Sophie, who becomes upset at how coldly he treats her.
The Lawyer
Hanna’s public defender. Described by Michael as “hasty” and “too zealous,” the lawyer is inexperienced, and his mistakes undermine Hanna’s defense.
Michael’s Professor
The law professor who decides to make Hanna’s trial the subject of his seminar.
Michael’s Former Classmate
Another student in the concentration camps seminar, and later a lawyer turned pub owner who meets Michael at the professor’s funeral.
Rudolph Bargen
Michael’s good friend from high school.
Holder Schlüter
One of Michael’s good friends from high school.
Helen
Michael’s former girlfriend and an American literary critic who does not respond much to his confessions about Hanna.
Gesina
Michael’s former girlfriend and a psychoanalyst with whom Michael discusses Hanna, and who believes that he needs to work on his relationship with his mother, as she barely appeared in his story.
Hilke
Michael’s former girlfriend and a dentist who can’t seem to remember what Michael tells her about his past.