The Reader

The Reader

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The Jewish Woman / The Daughter Character Analysis

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 younger, weaker girls in the camp was that the girls would read aloud to Hanna in exchange for slightly better care. The daughter also wrote a book about her time in the camps; the book was made available to the people involved in the trial, including Hanna, but was only published after the trial. When Michael reads it, he finds that the book “creates distance” and “exudes the very numbness” that Michael feels from being exposed to the trial’s horrific evidence. After Hanna dies, she leaves Michael with instructions to send her money to the Jewish woman. Michael visits her in New York, and describes the woman as “matter-of-fact.” She refuses to grant absolution to Hanna or to accept responsibility for her money, but she keeps Hanna’s tea tin, which reminds her of the tea tin that was stolen from her at the camps.

The Jewish Woman / The Daughter Quotes in The Reader

The The Reader quotes below are all either spoken by The Jewish Woman / The Daughter or refer to The Jewish Woman / The Daughter. 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 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

During the trial the manuscript was available, but to those directly involved. I had to read the book in English, an unfamiliar and laborious exercise at the time. And as always, the alien language, unmastered and struggled over, created a strange concatenation of distance and immediacy. I worked through the book with particular thoroughness and yet did not make it my own. It remained as alien as the language itself.
Years later I reread it and discovered that it is the book that creates distance. It does not invite one to identify with it and makes no one sympathetic, neither the mother nor the daughter, nor those who shared their fate in various camps and finally in Auschwitz and the satellite camp near Cracow…. It exudes the very numbness I have tried to describe before. But even in her numbness the daughter did not lose the ability to observe and analyze.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker), The Jewish Woman / The Daughter
Page Number: 118-119
Explanation and Analysis:

A manuscript written by the Jewish daughter who survived the church fire served as a key piece of evidence against the trial’s defendants (including Hanna). Michael, who at the time only had access to the English version of the manuscript, felt that the book created distance for the reader and that distance was a result of the language. Later, however, when he rereads it (presumably in German), he realizes that this distance originates from the book itself, as it “makes no one sympathetic” and “exudes the very numbness” that Michael himself experiences. Like the woman, Michael is, for at least part of his story, both analytical and numb in his writing. Yet unlike the woman, Michael has not experienced as many and as horrific traumas that she experienced in the camps. He is therefore able to break free from his numbness, as evident from his frequent discussion of his emotions and his at times sympathetic portrayal of Hanna.

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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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The Jewish Woman / The Daughter Character Timeline in The Reader

The timeline below shows where the character The Jewish Woman / The Daughter appears in The Reader. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 5
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
...survive a bombing raid and some, including the commandant, fled. Two prisoners, a mother and daughter, survived, and became the key witnesses in the trial against the five defendants. The daughter,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
...evidence for the locking of the church fire were the testimonies of the mother and daughter and the daughter’s book. But the mother and daughter had been locked inside the church... (full context)
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
The daughter suddenly interrupts, having remembered something from the camps, and she gives testimony that Hanna did... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
During the trial, Michael reads the English translation of the daughter’s book, as it is the only version available to him. Though he initially believes the... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The mother and daughter’s last stop after Auschwitz is the camp near Cracow, whose conditions are slightly better and... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
...open, most of the women did not suffocate but burned to death. The mother and daughter survived only because the mother had hidden them in the gallery, though it was closer... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
...well as her bank account to Michael, who was to send it to the Jewish daughter who had survived the church fire. Aside from this instruction, Hanna had left Michael no... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...in America for a meeting and decides to use the opportunity to meet the Jewish daughter who survived the church fire. On his way to New York, where the woman lives,... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
When Michael arrives at the Jewish woman ’s apartment, she serves him tea. The narrator describes her as “matter-of-fact” in both tone... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Michael asks the Jewish woman if she can accept the money without granting absolution, and the woman, laughing, probes Michael... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
When Michael takes out the tea tin and a check, the Jewish woman leaves the check on the table and empties the tea tin. She tells Michael that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12
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
The narrator tells us that Hanna’s death and his meeting with the Jewish woman happened ten years ago. After Hanna’s death, Michael was plagued with guilt and often questioned... (full context)