The Reader

The Reader

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Michael’s mother Character Analysis

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 memory of his mother pampering him with a bath. From what little else the narrator tells us, Michael’s mother often worries about her children.

Michael’s mother Quotes in The Reader

The The Reader quotes below are all either spoken by Michael’s mother or refer to Michael’s mother. 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 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.

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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 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.

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Michael’s mother Character Timeline in The Reader

The timeline below shows where the character Michael’s mother appears in The Reader. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
...woman walks Michael to his building on Blumenstrasse. When Michael is home, he tells his mother about his sickness and the woman who helped him. His mother calls a doctor, who... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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
...her…by facing up to it.” He then recollects an early childhood memory in which his mother gave him a warm bath. As his room was unheated, he viewed that bath as... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
...that he had gotten lost, and announces that he will be returning to school. Michael’s mother reminds him of the doctor’s recommendation to wait an additional three weeks, but turns to... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Michael’s father “looked thoughtful, the way he always did when [his] mother talked to him about the children or the household,” and Michael wonders if his father... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
...strangeness of Michael’s proposal, which included the suggestion that they rent a room together as mother and son. Whenever the teenage Michael had gone out with his mother, he was embarrassed... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
...that he had earlier proposed. The narrator then wonders excuse what he had told his mother and father, but he cannot remember. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
...his trip with Hanna, Michael does remember what he had to do to convince his mother and father to let him stay home alone for the last week of his vacation... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
...freedom and dignity. As an example, his father points to Michael’s boyish anger that his mother made all his decisions, saying, “Philosophy has forgotten about children…the way I forget about you.”... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
However, Michael feels that he has no one else to blame, especially not his mother and father, whom he is now embarrassed to have condemned during his concentration camps seminar.... (full context)