The trial goes poorly for Hanna, who speaks up to correct something in the indictment, only to be told by the judge that she had already had time to read through the charges. Hanna unwillingly agrees that the daughter’s book not be read into the record and refuses to acknowledge that she admitted in a signed deposition to having the key to the church. When Hanna asks “why they were trying to hang something on her,” the judge interprets her question as an accusation of the court’s miscarriage of justice.
Hanna’s illiteracy makes her vulnerable during the trial. Furthermore, her decision to hide her illiteracy for the sake of her pride led her to agree to a charge she did not commit. Her ignorance of the evidence—again, a result of her determination to hide her illiteracy—also weakens her defense.
Michael claims, “Hanna wanted to do the right thing” — that she denied claims she thought false and acknowledged claim she thought were true. However, Hanna is unable to see that her insistent contradictions are annoying the judge. Hanna, who “had no sense of context, of the rules of the game,” only makes her situation worse by not trusting her lawyer.
Hanna’s illiteracy is not confined to the written word, but also extends to her inability to read her surroundings and understand the impression she is making on others. Her perpetual distance from others prevents her from trusting her lawyer, thus worsening her situation.
Yet despite this, Hanna “achieved her own kind of success.” When the judge asks Hanna if she knew she was sending people to their death, she answers, “Yes, but the new ones came, and the old ones had to make room for the new ones.” When the judge tries to point out that Hanna had callously participated in murder for the sake of logistics, Hanna doesn’t understand his point and asks the judge what he would have done. The judge, who wears a mask of irritation to think about his answer, responds in general terms, to the disappointment of the court and Hanna, who had been seeking a personal answer. Though the spectators are amazed that Hanna “won the exchange,” Hanna is too busy wondering uncertainly whether she should have signed up for the SS in the first place.
Hanna’s inability to understand the intent of the judge’s question is an example of her social and moral illiteracy. Her question to the judge is yet another example of this, as she doesn’t understand the inappropriateness of this question in the context of a trial. Though Michael believes Hanna was successful in her own way, Hanna’s uncertainty even at the end of the exchange demonstrates that she still does not understand what she has done wrong and why she is on trial.