The Reader

The Reader

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The Reader Part 2, Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During the narrator’s most recent visit to Struthof, the camp is closed, and the grounds are covered with snow, leaving no trace of the camp’s horrors. The narrator remembers that during Michael’s first visit, he saw the barracks, the crematorium ovens, and the prison cells. He had tried to imagine what the camp must have been like for inhabitants, but could not picture it.
Despite his visits to the concentration camp and his witnessing of the camp’s ruins, Michael is unable to imagine the camp during the Nazi regime, suggesting that its horrors could only be remembered through the “clichéd” images he had encountered during the trial.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
On his way back, the narrator (on his most recent visit to Struthof) is embarrassed to look for a restaurant and feels awkward, not because of his visit to the camp, but because he self-conscious about how he is supposed to feel. Michael finds a restaurant whose name, Au Petit Garcon (The Little Boy), reminds him of Hanna’s nickname for him.
As an older man, Michael’s uncertainty about how to feel about his visit to the concentration camp echoes the uncertainty he expressed in Part 1 about his feelings toward Hanna.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
On his first visit to Struthof, Michael walked around until closing and felt nothing but emptiness. He then hitchhiked to the next village and rented a room. While eating dinner, he notices four men throwing cigarette butts at an old man with a wooden leg. No one else says anything, but Michael furiously tells them to stop. The old man then takes off his wooden leg, hits the men’s table with it, and laughs alongside the four men, as they all mock Michael’s “Stop it!”
Michael’s feelings of emptiness after visiting the camp for the first time are perhaps a consequence of the emotional numbness the trial has engrained in him. Like the driver’s opinions, the absurd encounter in which Michael tries to defend an old man from the bullying of four other men, only to have all five of them mock Michael, demonstrates the omnipresence of indifference and cruelty.
Themes
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
That night Michael is restless 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” Hanna by “failing to understand” and not want to excuse her wrongdoing. The next day, Michael hitchhikes back home, his images of Struthof joining the other frozen clichés in his mind.
Michael’s conflicting desires to understand and to condemn Hanna’s crimes are emblematic of the generational conflict between Nazis, sympathizers, accommodators, and bystanders, and their children.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
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