The Reader

The Reader

The Reader Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Over the next few days, Michael skips his last class to meet the woman. They shower and have sex. Frau Schmitz teaches Michael to be more sexually confident, and when they have sex, she “took possession of [him] as a matter of course” until he learns to “take possession of her too.” After about a week of this ritual, Michael asks her, “What’s your name?”—they’ve been avoiding until now choosing between formal and familiar forms of address. The woman asks why he wants to know, but seeing Michael’s confusion at her suspicious response, she tells him that her name is Hanna.
By “taking possession” of each other, Michael and Hanna objectify each other, an aspect of their relationship exemplified by the fact that they don’t know each other’s names. Hanna’s suspicious response to Michael’s question indicates both her evasion of her past and her inability to read certain situations. Michael’s avoidance of the formal and informal forms of address is a reference to a grammatical distinction in the German language when addressing someone of equal or lower social status. We can assume that Hanna uses the informal form of address for Michael, as she is older and calls him “kid,” reinforcing her dominant role in the relationship. Though Michael’s usage of the formal or informal is lost in translation, his hesitation to use either suggests his uncertainty of where he stands in the relationship.
Themes
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
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. Testing out his name, she says “My kid’s called Michael, he’s in college.” Though Michael admits that he is actually in high school, he fails to correct her when she assumes that he is seventeen, rather than fifteen. In their first real conversation together, Michael confesses that he is skipping school to be with her and that he would have to “work like an idiot” to make up for the lost work. Hanna, who is suddenly angry, tells him to get out and scolds him for thinking his work is idiotic. She angrily describes her own work as idiotic and makes his schoolwork a condition for continuing their affair.
Hanna’s seemingly irrational anger is a result of her misreading of Michael’s idiomatic remark that he would have to “work like an idiot.” As the novel later reveals, her anger is a result of her insecurity about her own inability to read. That Hanna makes Michael’s education a condition of their affair reinforces her positions as a mother figure and as the dominant partner.
Themes
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Shocked but still longing for Hanna, Michael agrees to do his schoolwork in order to keep seeing her. Hanna is “dismissive” toward him, and Michael is left confused as to what just happened, as he had never said either of their work was idiotic, and as to what he means to her. When Michael kisses her goodbye, she doesn’t respond.
As a mother might withhold a reward in exchange for her child’s completion of schoolwork, Hanna withholds affection and sex. Michael is once again mystified by Hanna’s seeming inability to interpret certain situations and statements.
Themes
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon