The Reader

The Reader

The Reader Part 2, Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 him why he is visiting the camp. Michael tells him about the trial and how he wants first-hand knowledge. The driver, who seems sarcastic, asks him if he wants to understand why people murder, why the Holocaust occurred when “there was no reason for hatred, and no war.” Though Michael agrees, the tone in which the driver speaks is argumentative and sarcastic. Comparing Nazi perpetrators to executioners, the driver claims that they kill not because of orders or obedience but because of indifference.
Similar to Michael’s belief that Hanna had fallen into her job as an SS prison guard out of ignorance, the driver’s claim that the Nazis killed out of indifference, rather than because of hatred or orders, recalls Hannah Arendt’s theory about the “banality of evil.” It also supports the idea that people can easily become desensitized and emotionally detached even from the most horrible acts.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Blue quotation bubble icon linking to an important quote associated with this summary and analysis.
Expecting Michael to contradict him, the driver assumes that he was raised to believe in “human dignity” and “reverence for life,” mockingly asking “Isn’t that what they taught you?” He then starts talking about a photograph he once saw of Jews being murdered in Russia. The driver claims that though he didn’t hate the Jews, one of the soldiers standing behind them looked “satisfied, even cheerful… perhaps because the day’s work was getting done.” Michael asks the driver if he was the man in the photo, and the man kicks him out, leaving Michael to walk the rest of the way to the concentration camp.
The driver’s over-identification with a Nazi soldier, combined perhaps with his antagonistic attitude, causes Michael to insinuate the man’s guilt. The driver’s ridiculing of values such as the belief in human dignity and the preservation of life betrays the man’s indifference toward others’ suffering, hinting at the continued presence of Nazi sympathizers and accommodators in Germany after the war. Once again an image is used as a powerful memory-object.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon