The Reader

The Reader

The Reader Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next week, Michael returns to Frau Schmitz’s apartment. The previous week, he had tried not to think of her, but as he is still unable to attend school because of his hepatitis, he found himself with little else to do. The narrator then appears to shifts gears, proclaiming that being sick as a child is “such an enchanted interlude,” as the “outside world…is only a distant murmur in the sickroom.” While the outside world may be become more distant, the interior world of one’s imagination and of books becomes more vivid. Michael’s illness leaves him in a “labyrinth” of “desires, memories, fears, passions.”
As he hinted in the previous chapter, Michael becomes more distant from the outside world as he retreats into the world of his imagination. That Michael’s illness is what causes the “labyrinth” of his desire for the woman suggests, as he does explicitly later on in the novel, that the woman, with all the guilt that her crimes and secrecy bring with her, is like an illness.
Themes
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Every day Michael feels guilty as he not only has wet dreams about the woman but actively fantasizes about her during the day. Despite his “moral upbringing,” he finds himself rationalizing his desire, and decides that he will visit Frau Schmitz to apologize in order to avoid “the risk of becoming trapped in [his] own fantasies.” Unable to recall why he actually went, the narrator reflects that his conscious decisions to do something do not always correspond with his actions. He claims that his behavior has “its own sources” or motivations, to which he has no conscious access.
Michael’s feelings of guilt for desiring the woman anticipate his later guilt for loving her, and thus for implicitly accepting her crimes as a Nazi prison guard. Though Michael decides to visit the woman to avoid being trapped by his fantasies, this is a rationalization, and his visit actually roots him more deeply in his fantasies, as he takes the woman’s “invitation to forget the world.”
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon