The Reader

The Reader

The story’s protagonist and narrator, who as a fifteen-year-old boy has an affair with an older woman named Hanna, only to discover years later that his lover was once a Nazi prison guard. Born to an educated middle-class family, Michael is an affable and moderately intelligent boy. Because of his strong moral upbringing, he often feels guilty and questions the morality of his actions and thoughts. When Hanna leaves him, Michael becomes distant from others and takes on a posture of arrogance and indifference, vowing never to feel guilty again. However, as a young law student, he crusades against the previous generation for their accommodation or perpetration of Nazi crimes, but when he discovers that Hanna is on trial for having worked for the SS, he begins to question whether he too is guilty for loving her. Years after Hanna is in prison, Michael resurrects his relationship with her by sending her tapes of himself reading aloud. Despite his delighted surprise when Hanna sends him a handwritten note, he does not write back to her or see her until she is about to be released from prison. When Hanna kills herself shortly after he visits her in prison, the pain and guilt surrounding their relationship still haunts him, even ten years after her death, when he begins writing their story.

Michael Berg Quotes in The Reader

The The Reader quotes below are all either spoken by Michael Berg or refer to Michael Berg. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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 It was more as if she had withdrawn into her own body, and left it to itself and its own quiet rhythms, unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world.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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolor

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui offic

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate ve

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deseru

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepte

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt

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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

It was evident to us that there had to be convictions. It was just as evident that conviction of this or that camp guard or enforcer was only the prelude. The generation that had been served by the guards and enforcers, or had done nothing to stop them, or had not banished them from its midst as it could have done after 1945, was in the dock, and we explored it, subjected it to trial by daylight, and condemned it to shame… We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker)
Page Number: 91-92
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

After a time I thought I could detect a similar numbness in other people.… The effect was strongest on the judges and the lay members of the court. During the first weeks of the trial they took in the horrors — sometimes recounted in tears, sometimes in choking voices, sometimes in agitated or broken sentences — with visible shock or obvious efforts at self-control. Later their faces returned to normal; they could smile and whisper to one another or even show traces of impatience when a witness lost the thread while testifying. When going to Israel to question a witness was discussed, they started getting the travel bug. The other students kept being horrified all over again. They only came to the trial once a week, and each time the same thing happened: the intrusion of horror into daily life. I, who was in court every day, observed their reactions with detachment.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker)
Page Number: 101-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.LoremLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

When I think today about those years, I realize how little direct observation there actually was, how few photographs that made life and murder in the camps real…. We were familiar with some of the testimony of prisoners, but many of them were published soon after the war and not reissued until the 1980s, and in the intervening years they disappeared from publishers' lists. Today there are so many books and films that the world of the camps is part of our collective imagination and completes our ordinary everyday one…not just registering, but supplementing and embellishing it. Back then, the imagination was almost static: the shattering fact of the world of the camps seemed properly beyond its operations. The few images derived from Allied photographs and the testimony of survivors flashed on the mind again and again, until they froze into clichés.

Related Characters: Michael Berg (speaker)
Page Number: 147-148
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

“You're right, there was no war, and no reason for hatred. But executioners don't hate the people they execute, and they execute them all the same. Because they're ordered to? You think they do it because they're ordered to? And you think that I'm talking about orders and obedience, that the guards in the camps were under orders and had to obey?” He laughed sarcastically. “No, I'm not talking about orders and obedience. An executioner is not under orders. He's doing his work, he doesn't hate the people he executes, he's not taking revenge on them, he's not killing them because they're in his way or threatening him or attacking him. They're a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not.”

Related Characters: The Driver (speaker), Michael Berg
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.Lorem ipLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Michael Berg Character Timeline in The Reader

The timeline below shows where the character Michael Berg appears in The Reader. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The novel begins with Michael, a fifteen-year-old boy in Germany, weak with illness. One day in October, Michael is walking... (full context)
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
A woman comes out and rescues Michael, handling him roughly “almost [like] an assault.” She brings him into the courtyard of the... (full context)
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
After inquiring where he lives, the woman walks Michael to his building on Blumenstrasse. When Michael is home, he tells his mother about his... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The narrator, an older Michael, reflects on the Bahnhofstrasse building, noting that it is eventually torn down and replaced by... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Later on in his life, Michael had recurring dreams about the building. In the dream, he would be walking on an... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
With flowers in hand, Michael goes to the Bahnhofstrasse building, where another tenant tells him that the woman’s name is... (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... (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... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
On his way back home, Michael dawdles along the familiar streets and buildings, his heart still pounding. When he calms down,... (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
...into her 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... (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... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Every day Michael feels guilty as he not only has wet dreams about the woman but actively fantasizes... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
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Outside the woman’s apartment, Michael finds that she is not home and decides to wait outside her door until she... (full context)
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Frau Schmitz offers to clean his clothes and run Michael a bath in the kitchen. Though she promises not to look as he undresses, she... (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
The next night, while longing for Frau Schmitz, Michael feels that he falls in love with her. As the narrator, he wonders whether his... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
After he sleeps with Frau Schmitz, Michael returns home late to find his parents and siblings already eating dinner. When asked why... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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Michael’s father “looked thoughtful, the way he always did when [his] mother talked to him about... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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Over the next few days, Michael skips his last class to meet the woman. They shower and have sex. Frau Schmitz... (full context)
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Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Hanna then asks him for his name, and Michael, who thought she already knew from his schoolbooks, tells her his name is Michael Berg.... (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” toward... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...unable to remember it as happy because “it ended unhappily.” Thinking about his younger self, Michael recognizes the awkwardness of his body, his average performance in school, his low self-esteem —... (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
By contrast, Hanna was “rooted in the here and now.” When Michael asks her about her life, she is evasive and hesitant to answer. She only gives... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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At this point, the narrator notes the strangeness of Michael’s proposal, which included the suggestion that they rent a room together as mother and son.... (full context)
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...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 Hanna... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
At the beginning of his Easter vacation, Michael decides to surprise Hanna one morning by going on her streetcar. Expecting a private kiss... (full context)
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Eventually, Michael leaves in tears and goes to Hanna’s apartment to ask her why she acted as... (full context)
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Despite Hanna’s poor treatment of him, Michael tries to understand her point of view and begins to apologize for upsetting her, only... (full context)
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Hanna forgives and bathes him, and they have sex as usual. When Michael finally explains why he had gotten into the second car and not the first, Hanna... (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] hadn’t wanted to know... (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... (full context)
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Hanna lets Michael plan not only their bicycle routes but also the other logistics of their trip, such... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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...teenage self wrote for Hanna. Imitating German poets Rainer Rilke and Gottfried Benn, the young Michael writes that when he and Hanna open themselves and become submerged in each other, they... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
...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 let... (full context)
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Having successfully stolen the clothes for his younger sister, Michael looks forward to spending his week home alone with Hanna. One night, he invites her... (full context)
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
In the study, Hanna asks Michael to read something from one of his father’s books. Though he does, neither of them... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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Michael is now beginning a new school year in the eleventh grade. Because many students in... (full context)
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Michael then describes the starkness of the classroom. When his eyes wander away from the room,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
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...engines. Like airplanes, which do not immediately fall out of the sky but rather glide, Michael’s love for Hanna began to fail without either of them noticing. They maintain their ritual... (full context)
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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Michael and Hanna begin to call each other pet names. In addition to Kid, Hanna calls... (full context)
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Michael begins to spend more and more time at the swimming pool with his classmates, and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Around this time, Michael begins to “betray” Hanna by keeping her secret from his friends. Michael, Sophie, and their... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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Whenever Michael asks Hanna about her life, about what she does when he isn’t there or when... (full context)
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Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Michael only ever saw her once in public by accident. Near the end of his summer... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
At the pool, Michael suddenly sees Hanna standing at a distance, staring at him. Frozen, Michael wonders why she... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The next day, Hanna is gone. Her apartment is empty, and Michael calls Hanna’s streetcar company to find that she hasn’t been to work. He tracks down... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Days pass, and though Michael feels sick, he hides it from his family and friends. When he goes to the... (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 her name... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
The next time Michael sees Hanna, it is in a courtroom at a trial concerning the concentration camps. Michael’s... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
...from its midst as it could have done after 1945.” Many in the generation preceding Michael’s had been involved in the Third Reich, some as army or SS officers, and others... (full context)
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Michael’s class becomes known as “students of the camps.” Reflecting back on his zealousness, the narrator... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Michael and his classmates attend the trial, which is in another town. The defendants are sitting... (full context)
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Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
When the judge questions her, Michael learns that Hanna joined the SS voluntarily despite an offer of a promotion at her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Though his seminar requires him to attend the trial only once a week, Michael watches the trial every day. While the other defendants talk among themselves or with friends... (full context)
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During the trial Michael feels nothing, as if he is numb, not only in the courtroom but in his... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...victims and perpetrators to become “selfish and indifferent” when “gassing and burning are everyday occurrences.” Michael notes that the defendants still seems to be trapped in the “mental paralysis” caused by... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Michael claims, “Hanna wanted to do the right thing” — that she denied claims she thought... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
...aloud to her. At this point, Hanna, her eyes tired, turns around to look at Michael, who realizes she was aware of his presence the whole time. The judge asks the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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During the trial, Michael reads the English translation of the daughter’s book, as it is the only version available... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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Though Michael does not remember the Friday seminars for his concentration camp seminar, he does remember his... (full context)
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Michael wonders whether Hanna had sent her favorite prisoners to Auschwitz to keep her secret. Though... (full context)
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Michael realizes how different Hanna’s worries must have been from what he had imagined. Michael thought... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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Michael debates whether or not he should tell the judge that Hanna is illiterate, that though... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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Michael decides to seek his father’s advice, not because they are close but because of the... (full context)
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Michael presents his problem as an abstract and in examples, but his father deduces that it... (full context)
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Michael doesn’t know how he could face Hanna, however, and though he knows the question is... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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While the court flies to Israel as “a combined judicial and touristic outing,” Michael plans to spend his two free weeks studying, but finds himself unable to concentrate. He... (full context)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
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Michael realizes that the images he had of the camps are undermining his memories. The narrator... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
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In order to understand the concentration camps without the “clichés,” Michael decides to visit Struthof, a concentration camp in Alsace. He hitchhikes, and his driver asks... (full context)
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Expecting Michael to contradict him, the driver assumes that he was raised to believe in “human dignity”... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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On his first visit to Struthof, Michael walked around until closing and felt nothing but emptiness. He then hitchhiked to the next... (full context)
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That night Michael is restless and feels unready to face the rest of his life. Though he wants... (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... (full context)
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Aware of Michael’s seminar, the judge is friendly and happy to talk to him. They chat pleasantly about... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17
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...with a white shirt, which makes it look as if she is a uniform. Though Michael had never seen the SS uniform for women, he and the other spectators strongly associate... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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After the trial, Michael spends most of his summer and winter semester studying at the library or at home,... (full context)
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When Michael returns from the hospital, the numbness disappears and “all the questions and fears, accusations and... (full context)
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For Michael’s generation, collective guilt was “a lived reality.” The fact that after the war, Jewish graves... (full context)
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However, Michael feels that he has no one else to blame, especially not his mother and father,... (full context)
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Yet Michael then assigns guilt even to filial love, pointing to the supposed incompatibility of feeling guilt... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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While working as a clerk, Michael marries Gertrud, a law student whom he met at the ski lodge and who becomes... (full context)
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Michael and Gertrud divorce when their daughter, Julia, is five. Though the divorce is smooth and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
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At 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... (full context)
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At the graveyard, Michael stands apart from the mourners and recognizes one as a former classmate from the professor’s... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
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By this time, Julia is in kindergarten, Gertrud is working as a judge, and Michael has been having a difficult time deciding what legal profession he should pursue. His witnessing... (full context)
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Yet at the same time, Michael found it “gratifying” to explore a past that was not immediately connected to him or... (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... (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... (full context)
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...Hanna’s first note, she regularly sends him brief notes thanking him, commenting on the book Michael read to her, or describing her life in prison. Though she assumes all the books... (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... (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 letter but... (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... (full context)
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Michael realizes he has disappointed Hanna with his reaction and tries to make up for it,... (full context)
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...not even the courts, “could call [her] to account”—no one but the dead. Hanna tells Michael that the dead visited her every night in prison, but before the trial, she “could... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
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The next week, a restless Michael keeps busy with a lecture and with the final arrangements for Hanna’s release. Though he... (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... (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 had noticed any warning... (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... (full context)
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Michael then notices the many pictures and papers hanging above Hanna’s bed. Hanna had copied or... (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 borrowed from the prison library. As... (full context)
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Michael asks the warden what Hanna was like during her time in prison. The warden compares... (full context)
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Michael asks to see Hanna’s body, and the warden grants the request. She tells him that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
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The next fall, Michael is in America for a meeting and decides to use the opportunity to meet the... (full context)
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When Michael arrives at the Jewish woman’s apartment, she serves him tea. The narrator describes her as... (full context)
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Michael asks the Jewish woman if she can accept the money without granting absolution, and the... (full context)
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When Michael takes out the tea tin and a check, the Jewish woman leaves the check on... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12
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...death and his meeting with the Jewish woman happened ten years ago. After Hanna’s death, Michael was plagued with guilt and often questioned whether he had betrayed her, whether he was... (full context)