The Reader

The Reader

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Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) Character Analysis

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 Michael by 21 years, she is commanding and at times dismissive toward him. Whenever she and Michael fight, she stubbornly refuses to take any blame, bullying Michael into holding himself responsible for what are often her misunderstandings or misinterpretations. During the affair, Hanna is evasive about her past and emotionally distant; however, decades later, Michael discovers that she had kept a newspaper clipping of his high school graduation with her until her death. Throughout most of the novel, Hanna puts considerable energy into hiding what she views as her most shameful secret, her illiteracy, despite the fact that she also participated in war crimes as a former Nazi prison guard. Initially unable to understand why she is on trial and so ashamed of being seen as uneducated, she falsely confesses to being the other prison guards’ sadistic leader rather than admit she cannot write. However, years into her prison sentence, Hanna is finally able to relinquish her pride in others’ perception of her and dedicates herself to learning how to read from the tapes Michael sends her. Once she learns to read, she begins to understand the extent of the horrors in which she has participated and commits suicide the day before she is to be released from prison.

Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) Quotes in The Reader

The The Reader quotes below are all either spoken by Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) or refer to Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz). 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 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

I remember that her body and the way she held it and moved sometimes seemed awkward. Not that she was particularly heavy. It was more as if she had withdrawn into her own body, and left it to itself and its own quiet rhythms, unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world. It was the same obliviousness that weighted in her glance and her movements when she was pulling on her stockings. But then she was not awkward, she was slow-flowing, graceful, seductive — a seductiveness that had nothing to do with breasts and hips and legs, but was an invitation to forget the world in the recesses of the body.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

After recounting his voyeuristic gaze at Hanna putting on her stockings, the narrator reflects on why he found her so attractive. It was Hanna’s seemingly un-self-conscious demeanor, her “obliviousness” to the world that Michael found seductive.

However, the temptation of this obliviousness is problematic, as forgetting the world and its other inhabitants can lead to disaster. Because Hanna’s actions, like the rhythms of her body, are “unbothered by any input from her mind,” she is indifferent to the suffering of her victims in the concentration camps. The seduction of Michael, who succumbs to this obliviousness, is then an allegory for the accommodation of Nazi perpetrators in Germany after the war. Just as regular German people figuratively got into bed with Nazis, turning a blind eye to their crimes, Michael literally gets into bed with Hanna.

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Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

My mother had pushed a chair up close to the stove for me to stand on while she washed and dressed me. I remember the wonderful feeling of warmth, and how good it felt to be washed and dressed in this warmth. I also remember that whenever I thought back to this afterwards, I always wondered why my mother had been spoiling me like this…Because the woman who didn’t yet have a name in my mind had so spoiled me that afternoon, I went back to school the next day.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz), Michael’s mother
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael and Hanna have sex for the first time, Michael feels as if he has been indulged and thinks back to a memory of his mother bathing him. The novel’s first explicit comparison of Hanna and Michael’s mother, this passage sets up Hanna as Michael’s mother figure as well as his romantic interest.

Michael’s feeling of being “spoiled” causes him to feel somewhat guilty, and to make up for it he decides to go back to school earlier than expected (he’s been sick). Michael’s attitude toward sex and school thus divides the two and sets them as contrasted to each other. Whereas sex with Hanna is an indulgence that allows him to forget the outside world, his studies allow him to learn more about the world (which is often harsh and complicated). Years after the affair, Michael’s decision to become a legal historian, and thus to spend much of his time in study, is perhaps his way of making up for the complicity he later feels for loving Hanna.

I felt as if we were sitting all together for the last time around the round table under the five-armed, five-candled brass chandelier, as if we were eating our last meal off the old plates with the green vine-leaf border, as if we would never talk to each other so intimately again. I felt as if I were saying goodbye. I was still there and already gone. I was homesick for my mother and father and my brother and sisters, and I longed to be with the woman.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz), Michael’s Father, Michael’s mother, Michael’s older sister, Michael’s older brother, Michael’s younger sister
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael returns home from his first sexual encounter with Hanna, he feels suddenly nostalgic for his family. Though he is surrounded by his parents and siblings at dinner, he feels distant from them, as if he were “already gone.”

This is the novel’s first instance of the wedge that Hanna will form between Michael and those around him. As Hanna herself is distant from Michael, the fact that Michael mirrors this distance in his other relationships suggests that emotional distance fosters emotional distance. After Hanna leaves him, this distance worsens and later sabotages Michael’s marriage, friendships, and other relationships.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

I asked her about her life, and it was as if she rummaged around in a dusty chest to get me the answers. She had grown up in a German community in Rumania, then come to Berlin at the age of sixteen, taken a job at the Siemens factory, and ended up in the army at twenty-one.… She had no family. She was thirty-six. She told me all this as if it were not her life but somebody else's, someone she didn't know well and who wasn't important to her. Things I wanted to know more about had vanished completely from her mind, and she didn't understand why I was interested in what had happened to her parents, whether she had had brothers and sisters, how she had lived in Berlin and what she'd done in the army.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Early on in their affair, Michael discovers that Hanna doesn’t like to talk about herself or her past. When he asks her questions about her life, she maintains her emotional distance from Michael by evading his questions or by only giving him the most basic information about herself.

Hanna’s apparent inability to understand why Michael wants to know more about her is perhaps another evasion tactic (to keep herself distant from him, and to avoid talking about her crimes as a Nazi guard) but could also be rooted in her inability to interpret motivations and contexts. It is also possible that she simply does not place much value in herself or her life, as the few answers she gives Michael are reported as if they belong to “someone she didn’t know well and who wasn’t important to her.”

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

The trip on the streetcar had been like a bad dream. If I didn't remember its epilogue so vividly, I would actually be tempted to think of it as a bad dream. Standing at the streetcar stop, hearing the birds and watching the sun come up was like an awakening. But waking from a bad dream does not necessarily console you. It can also make you fully aware of the horror you just dreamed, and even of the truth residing in that horror.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Michael has just gotten off Hanna’s streetcar after a failed attempt to make a romantic gesture for her. When Michael tried to surprise her on her streetcar, he felt hurt and rejected after she ignored him the entire time he was there.

Michael’s comparison of leaving the streetcar to waking from a bad dream anticipates his later description of the numbness that overcomes him during the trial and that was often found in Holocaust survivors. Just as Michael only realizes how painful his experience on the streetcar was once it was over, Michael later feels the full force of the pain and horror from the beginning of the trial only after it ends.

Part 1, Chapter 12 Quotes

It is one of the pictures of Hanna that has stayed with me. I have them stored away, I can project them on a mental screen and watch them, unchanged, unconsumed. There are long periods when I don't think about them at all. But they always come back into my head, and then I sometimes have to run them repeatedly through my mental projector and watch them.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Referring to the image of Hanna in his father’s study the first time he invited her to his house, Michael describes the visual manner in which he stores memories of Hanna in his mind. Like the images of Nazi atrocities during the trial (later in the novel), Michael’s images of Hanna become engrained into his mind as memories. That these images often pop into Michael’s head suggests that the memory of Hanna is still haunting him. Michael’s urge to “run them repeatedly through [his] mental projector” evokes in the reader a sense of nostalgia, but also a kind of nostalgia that is impossible to escape. Michael’s nostalgia as well as his sense of being haunted by Hanna are manifestations of his inner conflict about her after the revelations of the trial.

Part 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

She didn't know it was my birthday. When I had asked her about hers, and she had told me it was the twenty-first of October, she hadn't asked me when mine was. She was also no more bad-tempered than she always was when she was exhausted. But I was annoyed by her bad temper, and I wanted to be somewhere else, at the pool, away with my classmates, swept up in the exuberance of our talk, our banter, our games, and our flirtations. Then when I proceeded to get bad-tempered myself and we started a fight and Hanna treated me like a nonentity, the fear of losing her returned and I humbled myself and begged her pardon until she took me back. But I was filled with resentment.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Near the end of their affair, Michael finds himself increasingly torn between his desire to be with Hanna and his desire to spend time with his friends. As Hanna is often bad-tempered and domineering, Michael finds himself growing resentful of her, as their relationship is almost entirely determined by the bounds that Hanna sets for them.

The fact that Hanna and Michael don’t know each other’s birthdays illustrates how little they actually know each other. That Michael asks Hanna’s birthday, but that Hanna does not do the same, is one of many examples of Hanna’s lack of reciprocity. The imbalanced nature of their relationship is also evident from their fights: Hanna always treats Michael as unimportant in order to manipulate him into apologizing.

Part 1, Chapter 16 Quotes

I never found out what Hanna did when she wasn't working and we weren't together. When I asked, she turned away my questions. We did not have a world that we shared; she gave me the space in her life that she wanted me to have. I had to be content with that. Wanting more, even wanting to know more, was presumption on my part. If we were particularly happy with each other and I asked her something because at that moment it felt as if everything was possible and allowed, then she sometimes ducked my questions, instead of refusing outright to answer them.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

It is towards the end of their affair, and Hanna still does not open herself up to Michael. Whenever he asks her questions about herself, she still dodges or rejects his questions. Hanna decides on all the terms of their relationship, and any attempt by Michael to learn more about her feels like “presumption.”

The nature of Hanna and Michael’s relationship represents the generational conflict between Nazi perpetrators and bystanders, and their children. Though Michael was unaware at this time of Hanna’s Nazi past, his desire to know more about her past mirrors the second generation’s calls for accountability, just as Hanna’s refusal to answer Michael’s questions mirrors Nazi perpetrators’ resistance against accepting responsibility.

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

I know that even if I had said goodbye to my memory of Hanna, I had not overcome it. Never to let myself be humiliated or humiliate myself after Hanna, never to take guilt upon myself or feel guilty, never again to love anyone whom it would hurt to lose — I didn't formulate any of this as I thought back then, but I know that's how I felt.
I adopted a posture of arrogant superiority. I behaved as if nothing could touch or shake or confuse me. I got involved in nothing, and I remember a teacher who saw through this and spoke to me about it; I was arrogantly dismissive.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 88-89
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Part 2, after Hanna leaves him, Michael is initially haunted by thoughts of her but then is eventually able to put aside his feelings and his guilt. However, he overcompensates for this by excluding all feelings of guilt or emotional investment from his life. Though Michael is now able to move on with his life to a certain extent, he does not recognize the useful qualities of guilt and strong emotion. For example, his newfound ability to block out guilt prevents him from recognizing how his display of “arrogant superiority” hurts his grandfather and friend Sophie, and he becomes unable to take responsibility for hurting others.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

"Did you not know that you were sending the prisoners to their death?"
"Yes, but the new ones came, and the old ones had to make room for the new ones."
"So because you wanted to make room, you said you and you and you have to be sent back to be killed?"
Hanna didn't understand what the presiding judge was getting at.
"I ... I mean ... so what would you have done?" Hanna meant it as a serious question. She did not know what she should or could have done differently, and therefore wanted to hear from the judge, who seemed to know everything, what he would have done.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) (speaker), The Judge (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

The judge is questioning Hanna about one of the principal charges against her and the other defendants: that they selected sixty women every month to be sent to Auschwitz to die. When the judge asks Hanna if she knew the women would be killed, she not only admits that she knew but she attempts to justify their deaths by saying that “the old ones had to make room for the new ones.” Hanna does not understand the intent of the judge’s question, which was meant to determine whether she was aware that she was assisting in murder. But Hanna seems to view the prisoners’ deaths not as murder or as the loss of human life, but rather as numbers to check off in the name of efficiency or making space. When Hanna asks the judge what he personally would have done, she doesn’t understand that her question in inappropriate in the context of a trial—yet this personal, rather intimate question then implicates the judge as well, especially as another member of the generation that accommodated the perpetuators of the Holocaust. (And the question might well be aimed also at the reader.) Hanna’s misinterpretation of the question’s intent, as well as her question to the judge and her inability to empathize with her victims, all stem from her social and moral “illiteracy.”

Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

I was oddly moved by the discrepancy between what must have been Hanna's actual concerns when she left my hometown and what I had imagined and theorized at the time. I had been sure that I had driven her away because I had betrayed and denied her, when in fact she had simply been running away from being found out by the streetcar company. However, the fact that I had not driven her away did not change the fact that I had betrayed her. So I was still guilty. And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of having loved a criminal.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

Hanna has just falsely confessed to writing a report, and Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate. Reflecting on how her illiteracy explains some of her behavior, he now realizes that Hanna did not leave suddenly because he betrayed her by denying their relationship, but rather because she was trying to hide her illiteracy from her employer (who had offered her a promotion). Though Michael believes that he may not be technically guilty for driving her away or for betraying her, he does not excuse himself from guilt for loving her. Though Michael feels guilty for loving a criminal because he chose to love her, it is also possible that this is merely a justification for his guilt. That Michael changes the reason for his guilt not once but twice suggests that his insistence on his own guilt may have more to do with his inescapable feelings rather than with an intellectual conclusion that he is guilty – that is, rather than feeling guilt as a result of deducing his culpability, he seems to be searching for reasons to justify his feelings of guilt.

Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna's crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hanna, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks — understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

After he discovers her illiteracy and visits the concentration camp, Michael is torn between his loyalty to and past relationship with Hanna, which would entail attempting to understanding her crimes, and what he feels is his moral obligation to utterly condemn her crimes. Michael’s struggle between “understanding and condemnation” is an example of the parent-child conflict involving the generation of Nazi perpetrators and that of their children. Later described as “a German fate,” this struggle is one that Michael’s peers also experience, but Michael’s guilt stems from loving and choosing to love a criminal, and thus separates him from the rest of his generation. For Michael, this struggle is ultimately unresolved, as questions of whether Michael betrayed Hanna or should feel guilty for loving Hanna haunt him even after her death.

Part 2, Chapter 17 Quotes

I don't know if Hanna knew how she looked, or maybe she wanted to look like that. She was wearing a black suit and a white blouse, and the cut of the suit and the tie that went with the blouse made her look as if she were in uniform. I have never seen the uniform of the women who worked for the SS. But I believed, and the spectators all believed, that before us we were seeing that uniform, and the woman who had worked for the SS in it, and all the crimes Hanna was accused of doing.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 162-163
Explanation and Analysis:

On the day the verdict is the to be announced, Hanna arrives at the court dressed in a black and white suit, which the spectators — despite their ignorance of what an SS uniform actually looks like for women — all imagine as her uniform as a Nazi prison guard. Throughout much of the novel, Hanna seems to take great care and pride in maintaining her clean and neat appearance. Though Michael is unsure of why Hanna wore this particular outfit, it is possible that Hanna saw the suit as appropriate, professional attire for the verdict. However, regardless of how she herself views her appearance, Hanna seems to have been unaware of the impression that this outfit would make on the spectators, who more easily imagine her committing the crimes charged against her because of her appearance. Hanna’s decision to wear the suit displays once again her inability to read her surroundings and to anticipate people’s reactions.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

I had no one to point at. Certainly not my parents, because I had nothing to accuse them of…. But what other people in my social environment had done, and their guilt, were in any case a lot less bad than what Hanna had done. I had to point at Hanna. But the finger I pointed at her turned back to me. I had loved her. Not only had I loved her, I had chosen her. I tried to tell myself that I had known nothing of what she had done when I chose her. I tried to talk myself into the state of innocence in which children love their parents. But love of our parents is the only love for which we are not responsible.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz), Michael’s Father, Michael’s mother
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Michael has already graduated, the student movement has begun, and he is reflecting on generational conflict and the struggle to come to terms with Germany’s Nazi past. While pointing at the previous generation’s guilt was part and parcel of this struggle, Michael does not feel that he could point to his parents as guilty the way that his peers pointed to their parents. The only person whom Michael can personally condemn is Hanna, but in his mind, Hanna’s guilt necessitates his own, as he feels complicit for loving her. Unlike his peers, who did not choose their parents, Michael chose Hanna and thus feels all the more complicit in her actions.

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

I also read books I already knew and loved. So Hanna got to hear a great deal of Keller and Fontane, Heine and Morike. For a long time I didn't dare to read poetry, but eventually I really enjoyed it, and I learned many of the poems I read by heart. I can still say them today.
Taken together, the titles in the notebook testify to a great and fundamental confidence in bourgeois culture. I do not ever remember asking myself whether I should go beyond Kafka, Frisch, Johnson, Bachmann, and Lenz, and read experimental literature, literature in which I did not recognize the story or like any of the characters. To me it was obvious that experimental literature was experimenting with the reader, and Hanna didn't need that and neither did I.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Related Symbols: Cassette Tapes
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Eight years after the trial, Michael begins to send Hanna tapes of himself reading aloud. Though the cassette tapes evoke their old routine of reading, bathing, and lovemaking, Michael maintains his distance, never visiting Hanna in person or even sending her personal messages on tape. His sole means of communication with her are the readings themselves, and he sends her tapes of his favorite books and poems, largely by German writers. While much of the novel concerns Germany’s struggle to deal with its past, Michael’s exclusion of experimental literature could be seen as a conscious decision to move away from the past, as his reference to experimental literature is perhaps an allusion to the brutal experiments performed by Nazi doctors, or to the general fragility and complexity of his and Hanna’s relationship as it is. Michael’s selection of German classics is an acknowledgment, and perhaps a celebration, of the nation’s literary culture.

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

I read the note and was filled with joy and jubilation. "She can write, she can write!" In these years I had read everything I could lay my hands on to do with illiteracy. I knew about the helplessness in everyday activities, finding one's way or finding an address or choosing a meal in a restaurant, about how illiterates anxiously stick to prescribed patterns and familiar routines, about how much energy it takes to conceal one's inability to read and write, energy lost to actual living. Illiteracy is dependence. By finding the courage to learn to read and write, Hanna had advanced from dependence to independence, a step towards liberation.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

A few years after Michael first sends Hanna the tapes, Hanna sends him back a thank you note that she’s written, much to Michael’s delight. After he had discovered that Hanna could not read, Michael read up on illiteracy and the severe dependence it imposed on people. Hanna’s illiteracy and inability to deal with many everyday tasks, such as “finding one’s way” and “choosing a meal in a restaurant,” explains some of her behavior during her affair with Michael, whom Hanna had left to deal with all the logistics of their bike trip together. Though Michael recognizes Hanna’s literacy as “a step towards liberation,” “liberation” is not truly possible for Hanna, as she is in prison. Though she is later granted clemency, Hanna kills herself, perhaps because she is unready to face the outside world, but perhaps also because her literacy has allowed her to more fully comprehend her complicity in all the horrors of the Holocaust.

Part 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

But why should I have given her a place in my life? I reacted indignantly against my own bad conscience at the thought that I had reduced her to a niche. "Didn't you ever think about the things that were discussed at the trial, before the trial? I mean, didn't you ever think about them when we were together, when I was reading to you?"
"Does that bother you very much?" But she didn't wait for an answer. "I always had the feeling that no one understood me anyway, that no one knew who I was and what made me do this or that. And you know, when no one understands you, then no one can call you to account. Not even the court could call me to account. But the dead can. They understand. They don't even have to have been there, but if they were, they understand even better."

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) (speaker)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

A week before Hanna is about to be released, Michael visits her in prison for the first time. Though their conversation begins in a friendly manner, Michael soon tries to confront her about the horrifying secrets she kept from him while they were together. Seemingly unconcerned with her words’ effect on Michael, Hanna claims that only the dead can “call [her] to account,” as other the dead can understand her. Though Hanna recognizes that she is guilty, she implies that she cannot be held responsible by those whom she may have hurt and who are still alive (i. e. Michael). Hanna argues that she can only be held accountable by those who understand her motivations — and that is, in her opinion, only the dead. However, this argument seems somewhat disingenuous, and it would suggest that a perpetrator’s motivations be privileged above her criminal offenses against a victim.

Part 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

Only occasionally, when I was driving my car, or when I was in Hanna's apartment, did thoughts of it get the upper hand and trigger memories. I saw her on the bench, her eyes fixed on me, saw her at the swimming pool, her face turned to me, and again had the feeling that I had betrayed her and owed her something. And again I rebelled against this feeling; I accused her, and found it both shabby and too easy, the way she had wriggled out of her guilt. Allowing no one but the dead to demand an accounting, reducing guilt and atonement to insomnia and bad feelings — where did that leave the living? But what I meant was not the living, it was me. Did I not have my own accounting to demand of her? What about me?

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Michael has been preparing for Hanna’s release and can’t help but think of how she “wriggled out of her guilt,” claiming that only the dead can hold her responsible for her wrongs. Michael, however, feels that Hanna has wronged him, and that he deserves his “own accounting to demand of her.”

Though Hanna seems to accept at least some guilt for her actions during the war, she does not take responsibility for how she treated Michael. Her disregard for Michael’s feelings had been a major element of their relationship when he was a teenager, and it continues to haunt him in the form of his recurring memory-images as an adult. Not only did she often ignore his feelings but she kept her Nazi past a secret from him, apparently indifferent to the effect that her past might have on him. Later, when Michael meets with the Jewish woman, we are presented with another reason (albeit muted in Michael’s perception) for Michael to hold Hanna responsible: the affair itself. Michael had only been 15 when he met Hanna, and effect of the affair sabotaged his relationships with his family, his friends, his wife, and his daughter.

Part 3, Chapter 11 Quotes

I told her about Hanna's death and her last wishes.
"Why me?"
"I suppose because you are the only survivor."
"And how am I supposed to deal with it?"
"However you think fit."
"And grant Frau Schmitz her absolution?"
At first I wanted to protest, but Hanna was indeed asking a great deal. Her years of imprisonment were not merely to be the required atonement: Hanna wanted to give them her own meaning, and she wanted this giving of meaning to be recognized. I said as much.
She shook her head. I didn't know if this meant she was refusing to accept my interpretation or refusing to grant Hanna the recognition.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), The Jewish Woman / The Daughter (speaker), Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz)
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

Attempting to fulfill Hanna’s last wish, Michael travels to New York to give the last Jewish survivor of the church fire—the daughter who wrote a book about her experiences—Hanna’s money. However, the woman refuses to accept responsibility for the money, as this act would symbolically grant Hanna absolution, and thus relieve her (after her death) of her guilt. Michael believes that Hanna wanted to give her own meaning to her imprisonment and to be recognized for it, but both he and the woman realize that this would be inappropriate, and is a lot to ask, especially of one of Hanna’s victims. The woman’s refusal to take Hanna’s money and to grant absolution to a Nazi war criminal suggests that some crimes are so terrible that they cannot be forgiven. And even Michael, who is still tormented by his love for and attempts to understand Hanna, can accept this.

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Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) Character Timeline in The Reader

The timeline below shows where the character Hanna Schmitz (Frau Shmitz) appears in The Reader. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...goes to the Bahnhofstrasse building, where another tenant tells him that the woman’s name is Frau Schmitz and that she lives on the third floor. Michael enters the building and discovers that... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Though Michael does not remember how he greeted Frau Schmitz , he remembers in great detail what her apartment looked like. The kitchen was the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
When Michael is ready to leave, Frau Schmitz says she’ll walk him out, but she decides to change her clothes first. Michael waits... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...stop staring at her. Unlike the girls he liked to watch at the swimming pool, Frau Schmitz is much older and more womanly. (full context)
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
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...own body…unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world.” Michael identifies Frau Schmitz ’s unselfconscious grace as “an invitation to forget the world in the recesses of the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The next week, Michael returns to Frau Schmitz ’s apartment. The previous week, he had tried not to think of her, but as... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...his “moral upbringing,” he finds himself rationalizing his desire, and decides that he will visit Frau Schmitz to apologize in order to avoid “the risk of becoming trapped in [his] own fantasies.”... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
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...she is not home and decides to wait outside her door until she returns. When Frau Schmitz finally arrives in the uniform of a streetcar conductor, she appears unsurprised but not annoyed... (full context)
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Frau Schmitz offers to clean his clothes and run Michael a bath in the kitchen. Though she... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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The next night, while longing for Frau Schmitz , Michael feels that he falls in love with her. As the narrator, he wonders... (full context)
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After he sleeps with Frau Schmitz , Michael returns home late to find his parents and siblings already eating dinner. When... (full context)
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...at dinner, Michael feels “as if [he] were saying goodbye.” Even as he yearns for Frau Schmitz , he feels “homesick” for his family. Recognizing his son’s announcement as a statement rather... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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...but seeing Michael’s confusion at her suspicious response, she tells him that her name is Hanna. (full context)
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Hanna then asks him for his name, and Michael, who thought she already knew from his... (full context)
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Shocked but still longing for Hanna, Michael agrees to do his schoolwork in order to keep seeing her. Hanna is “dismissive”... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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...reflecting on his sadness whenever he thinks back to the time of his affair with Hanna. He wonders whether his sorrow is due to nostalgia or to the “knowledge of what... (full context)
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By contrast, Hanna was “rooted in the here and now.” When Michael asks her about her life, she... (full context)
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...was embarrassed to be seen by his friends. Yet the thought of being seen with Hanna, who is old enough to be his mother, makes him “proud.” The narrator reflects on... (full context)
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...that time, as his days were busy with schoolwork and with his regular meetings with Hanna. Michael begins to lie to his family to miss dinner in order to stay with... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
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At the beginning of his Easter vacation, Michael decides to surprise Hanna one morning by going on her streetcar. Expecting a private kiss on the second car,... (full context)
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Eventually, Michael leaves in tears and goes to Hanna’s apartment to ask her why she acted as if she didn’t know him. However, she... (full context)
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Despite Hanna’s poor treatment of him, Michael tries to understand her point of view and begins to... (full context)
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Hanna forgives and bathes him, and they have sex as usual. When Michael finally explains why... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
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Despite their fights, the narrator describes this time with Hanna as generally happy. Michael notes that Hanna “had trumped herself with her accusation that [he]... (full context)
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As Michael’s pocket money isn’t enough to cover the trip for both himself and Hanna, he sells his stamp collection at a much lower value than it is worth. Days... (full context)
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Hanna lets Michael plan not only their bicycle routes but also the other logistics of their... (full context)
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Again, the narrator feels to need to declare his and Hanna’s happiness in spite of their fight. He feels that the fight and his witnessing of... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
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...he doesn’t remember the lies he told his parents to cover up his trip with Hanna, Michael does remember what he had to do to convince his mother and father to... (full context)
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...clothes for his younger sister, Michael looks forward to spending his week home alone with Hanna. One night, he invites her to his house for dinner. Though she examines the house’s... (full context)
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The narrator then describes the many “pictures” of Hanna that he has kept in his mind and the way he can watch them on... (full context)
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In the study, Hanna asks Michael to read something from one of his father’s books. Though he does, neither... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
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...more by his mood than by his actual successes or failures. Despite his fights with Hanna, their affair made him happy, and he viewed the start of his classes in a... (full context)
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...loves. He wonders whether he should imagine Nausicaa, a beautiful princess from the Odyssey, as Hanna or as Sophie. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
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The narrator compares the failure of his relationship with Hanna to the failures of an airplane’s engines. Like airplanes, which do not immediately fall out... (full context)
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Michael and Hanna begin to call each other pet names. In addition to Kid, Hanna calls him Frog,... (full context)
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...his classmates, and becomes torn between spending time with his friends and spending time with Hanna. Whenever Michael becomes annoyed with Hanna’s bad temper, he wants to spend more time at... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
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Around this time, Michael begins to “betray” Hanna by keeping her secret from his friends. Michael, Sophie, and their friend Holger often go... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
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Whenever Michael asks Hanna about her life, about what she does when he isn’t there or when she isn’t... (full context)
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...ever saw her once in public by accident. Near the end of his summer vacation, Hanna was perpetually moody, until one day her stress was suddenly gone. They didn’t start reading... (full context)
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At the pool, Michael suddenly sees Hanna standing at a distance, staring at him. Frozen, Michael wonders why she is there and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
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The next day, Hanna is gone. Her apartment is empty, and Michael calls Hanna’s streetcar company to find that... (full context)
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...stays in a remote part where he won’t have to talk to others. Longing for Hanna, Michael is filled with guilt for not having immediately greeted her at the pool, and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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After Hanna leaves, Michael thinks about her constantly. He daydreams about her in classes and calls out... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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The next time Michael sees Hanna, it is in a courtroom at a trial concerning the concentration camps. Michael’s professor at... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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...the backs to the spectators, and when the defendants’ names are called, Michael realizes that Hanna is one of them. Though he recognizes her, he “felt nothing.” (full context)
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When the judge questions her, Michael learns that Hanna joined the SS voluntarily despite an offer of a promotion at her previous job. Hanna’s... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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...trial every day. While the other defendants talk among themselves or with friends and family, Hanna stands alone, and Michael watches her from behind. He pays close attention to her body... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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The trial goes poorly for Hanna, who speaks up to correct something in the indictment, only to be told by the... (full context)
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Michael claims, “Hanna wanted to do the right thing” — that she denied claims she thought false and... (full context)
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Yet despite this, Hanna “achieved her own kind of success.” When the judge asks Hanna if she knew she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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Hanna’s admission of certain things harmed not only her own defense but also the defense of... (full context)
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The daughter suddenly interrupts, having remembered something from the camps, and she gives testimony that Hanna did had her favorites. She didn’t make them work, gave them better barracks space and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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Hanna’s name doesn’t appear in the book, though he sometimes thinks he recognizes her in the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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...a burning church. The women say the report is false, and one defendant points to Hanna, claiming that she wrote the report as a cover up. (full context)
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When the judge asks Hanna why she did not unlock the door, Hanna tells him they had no other option,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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...would spend immersed in nature. One day when he is walking the woods, thinking about Hanna, he realizes, as if he had known it all along, that Hanna is illiterate. Her... (full context)
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Michael wonders whether Hanna had sent her favorite prisoners to Auschwitz to keep her secret. Though he understands how... (full context)
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Michael realizes how different Hanna’s worries must have been from what he had imagined. Michael thought that his betrayal made... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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Because Hanna admitted to writing the report, the other defendants are able to claim that she had... (full context)
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Michael debates whether or not he should tell the judge that Hanna is illiterate, that though she may be guilty she is not as guilty as the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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Michael doesn’t know how he could face Hanna, however, and though he knows the question is immaterial, asks his father what he should... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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...to spend his two free weeks studying, but finds himself unable to concentrate. He imagines Hanna cruelly standing by a burning church, sending off her readers to Auschwitz, and screaming orders... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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...Michael finds a restaurant whose name, Au Petit Garcon (The Little Boy), reminds him of Hanna’s nickname for him. (full context)
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...and feels unready to face the rest of his life. Though he wants to condemn Hanna’s crimes, he also wants to understand them, but feels torn between not wanting to “betray”... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 16
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Michael decides to visit the judge but cannot bring himself to visit Hanna. Feeling hurt at being deceived, he questions whether he was no more to her than... (full context)
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...own experiences in law school. Eventually, their conversation comes to an end without Michael mentioning Hanna. By the time Michael leaves, the numbness of the trial dulls his emotions and he... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17
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While the other defendants receive terms in jails, Hanna is sentenced to life. The courtroom is full and loud the day the verdict is... (full context)
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Hanna is dressed in a black suit with a white shirt, which makes it look as... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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...concentration camps seminar. Michael realizes that the only culpable person that he knows personally is Hanna, and that he must “point at” her. But if he points at her, he must... (full context)
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...parents. Though Michael does not receive comfort from the thought that his pain for loving Hanna was “a German fate”, albeit one more difficult to avoid than others, he reflects that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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...efficient, and loyal” and his marriage as unhappy. Despite Michael’s desire to “be free of” Hanna, he keeps Hanna a secret from Gertrud and never stops comparing Gertrud to Hanna. (full context)
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...feel guilty and pushes him to become more open in his relationships and to discuss Hanna. However, the narrator claims that the women he dated did not want to hear much... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
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...each conductor’s personality determined the car’s atmosphere and inwardly kicks himself for not seeing what Hanna was like as a conductor. (full context)
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...other students in the class before asking again what was going on between him and Hanna. Unsure of how to answer, Michael dodges the question with a quick goodbye and escapes... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
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...been having a difficult time deciding what legal profession he should pursue. His witnessing of Hanna’s trial led him to believe that prosecution, defense, and judging were all “grotesque oversimplification[s]”, and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
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After Michael separates from Gertrud, he becomes restless. Feeling haunted by Hanna, he records himself on tape reading The Odyssey and other works aloud. Eventually, eight years... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
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Four years after Michael starts sending Hanna the tapes, Hanna sends him a hand-written note thanking him. The handwriting looks like child’s... (full context)
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After Hanna’s first note, she regularly sends him brief notes thanking him, commenting on the book Michael... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
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Michael is comfortable with his “both close and removed” relationship with Hanna, and is surprised when he receives a letter from the prison warden informing him that... (full context)
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The warden seems to sincerely care about helping Hanna, and Michael, who has heard of the “extraordinary” reputation of the warden’s institution, likes the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8
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Michael visits the prison for the first time, looking for Hanna. A guard points her out to him, and Michael is shocked to see an old,... (full context)
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Michael realizes he has disappointed Hanna with his reaction and tries to make up for it, expressing his happiness about her... (full context)
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He asks Hanna if she had ever thought about her crimes when they were together, but Hanna evades... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
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...week, a restless Michael keeps busy with a lecture and with the final arrangements for Hanna’s release. Though he tries to avoid thinking about Hanna and his upcoming visit, he can’t... (full context)
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The day before Michael is scheduled to pick Hanna up, he calls her at the prison, asking her to think about what she wants... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
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The next morning, Hanna commits suicide. When Michael arrives at the prison, the warden questions him, asking if he... (full context)
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The warden then shows Michael Hanna’s cell. Its shelves are filled with tea tins, his tapes, and books. Michael remarks that... (full context)
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Michael then notices the many pictures and papers hanging above Hanna’s bed. Hanna had copied or cut out quotes, poems, and articles from newspaper and magazines,... (full context)
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The warden tells him that Hanna taught herself to read with Michael’s tapes by comparing the sound recording to books she... (full context)
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Michael asks the warden what Hanna was like during her time in prison. The warden compares Hanna’s life to that of... (full context)
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Michael asks to see Hanna’s body, and the warden grants the request. She tells him that Hanna’s suicide note didn’t... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
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...to New York, where the woman lives, Michael finds himself dreaming about what his and Hanna’s life might have been like if they had stayed together. When he wakes up, Michael... (full context)
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...tone and appearance. When the woman asks him why he came, Michael tells her about Hanna’s wish to give her the money. However, the woman refuses, believing that to accept it... (full context)
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...the money without granting absolution, and the woman, laughing, probes Michael about his relationship with Hanna. Michael tells her about his teenage affair and about Hanna’s illiteracy. The woman calls Hanna... (full context)
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...was stolen from her to be used by the concentration camp. The woman decides that Hanna’s money should not be used for the Holocaust, as that would grant her absolution, and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12
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The narrator tells us that Hanna’s death and his meeting with the Jewish woman happened ten years ago. After Hanna’s death,... (full context)