The Reader

The Reader


Bernhard Schlink

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The Reader: Part 1, Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Michael is now beginning a new school year in the eleventh grade. Because many students in his class had failed, his class is rearranged and he now has female classmates (there were only boys before). One of the girls, Sophie, sits next to him and is friendly toward him. Michael is excited to be in a class with girls, and he notices that unlike his male friends, he is comfortable around girls, because of the confidence his sexual experience has given him. Michael reflects that when he was young, he was either overconfident or insecure, and that his self-confidence was often determined 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 positive light.
Like his affair with an older woman, Michael’s confidence separates him from his peers. Though he enjoys his unique position at first, it sets him up for disappointment and alienation later in life, when he begins to feel that his distance from his own generation makes him complicit in the previous generation’s crimes.
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Michael then describes the starkness of the classroom. When his eyes wander away from the room, he finds himself staring at Sophie, who returns his gaze with a smile. The teacher scolds him for being distracted, and he is called on to translate the Odyssey, which Michael loves. He wonders whether he should imagine Nausicaa, a beautiful princess from the Odyssey, as Hanna or as Sophie.
Michael turns his gaze toward Sophie and begins to feel attraction for her as well as for Hanna. His experience of having to “choose” which one to fantasize about shows a generational conflict even within Michael’s romantic desires.
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon