The Reader

The Reader

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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. Though Michael never tells Gertrud about Hanna, he cannot stop inwardly comparing her to Hanna, which causes the marriage to fall apart. Nevertheless they maintain a friendly relationship with each other.

Gertrud Quotes in The Reader

The The Reader quotes below are all either spoken by Gertrud or refer to Gertrud. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Reader published in 1997.
Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

I don't know what I would have done if a professor of legal history had not offered me a research job. Gertrud said it was an evasion, an escape from the challenges and responsibilities of life, and she was right. I escaped and was relieved that I could do so…. Now escape involves not just running away, but arriving somewhere…. Doing history means building bridges between the past and the present, observing both banks of the river, taking an active part on both sides. One of my areas of research was law in the Third Reich, and here it is particularly obvious how the past and present come together in a single reality. Here, escape is not a preoccupation with the past, but a determined focus on the present and the future that is blind to the legacy of the past which brands us and with which we must live.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Gertrud
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

Faced with the prospect of having to choose a career, Michael decides not to become a defense or prosecution lawyer or a judge, as the trial has left him with a distaste for these professions. He falls into a research position, and despite his and his wife’s belief that it is an escape from the responsibilities of the present, Michael is “relieved” to escape, recalling his youthful attraction to Hanna’s “invitation to forget the world.” However, unlike his teenage escape to his affair with Hanna and to her “obliviousness” to the world, Michael’s position as a legal historian allows him to better understand the world. Michael’s research on the Third Reich allows him to study the recent past, and thus to come to terms with it, even as he also escapes responsibility for Hanna in the present and struggles to comes to term with their relationship.

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Gertrud Character Timeline in The Reader

The timeline below shows where the character Gertrud appears in The Reader. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3, Chapter 2
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
While working as a clerk, Michael marries Gertrud, a law student whom he met at the ski lodge and who becomes pregnant with... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Michael and Gertrud divorce when their daughter, Julia, is five. Though the divorce is smooth and without bitterness,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...this point, the narrative jumps back in time to when Michael is still married to Gertrud and the concentration camps seminar professor has just died. Despite Michael’s initial reluctance to go... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
By this time, Julia is in kindergarten, Gertrud is working as a judge, and Michael has been having a difficult time deciding what... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
After Michael separates from Gertrud, he becomes restless. Feeling haunted by Hanna, he records himself on tape reading The Odyssey... (full context)