The Reader

The Reader


Bernhard Schlink

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The Reader: Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

After Hanna leaves, Michael thinks about her constantly. He daydreams about her in classes and calls out her name and reaches out for her at night. Eventually, however, he is able to stop thinking about her and his guilt fades. After that, Michael remembers being happy at school and during his first few years at university. He describes this time as “effortless,” in that relationships and friendships came easily to him and “nothing weighed heavily.” Michael takes on “a posture of arrogant superiority” and behaves cruelly toward others, like Sophie, whom he has sex with but isn’t interested in, and his grandfather, whose blessing Michael rejects. Yet despite his coldness and apparent indifference, Michael is at times extremely emotional, as “the smallest gesture of affection would bring a lump to [his] throat.”
Though Hanna initially haunts his thoughts, eventually (over the course of years) Michael is able to stop feeling guilt for her—or for anyone else. This somewhat relieves his pain over losing Hanna, but his newfound indifference makes him emotionally distant from others as well, and his lack of guilt prevents him from taking responsibility for hurting others. Michael has been enormously affected by his relationship with Hanna, whether he’s actively thinking of her or not.
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon