The Reader

The Reader


Bernhard Schlink

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The Reader: Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Hanna’s admission of certain things harmed not only her own defense but also the defense of the other defendants, who had been favored by the evidence. The only available evidence for the locking of the church fire were the testimonies of the mother and daughter and the daughter’s book. But the mother and daughter had been locked inside the church and would not have been able to see outside. Hanna’s admissions, then, undermine the other defendants’ strategies of claiming that they had been under orders, but their lawyers use the opportunity to incriminate Hanna while claiming their defendants’ relative innocence. The lawyers argue that Hanna was the only one who knew that the women were being sent to their deaths. They argue that once Hanna was tired of her “special prisoners,” young girls in the camp, she sent them to Auschwitz.
Though Hanna did not seem to realize that she was wrong to send people to their deaths, her sense of morality and responsibility seems to include telling the truth at least. Hanna’s inability to read others and her own situation leaves her vulnerable to attack from the other defendants’ lawyers, and worsens the case for the other women on trial as well.
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The daughter suddenly interrupts, having remembered something from the camps, and she gives testimony that Hanna did had her favorites. She didn’t make them work, gave them better barracks space and food, and met with them at night; and they were always sent to Auschwitz. Though the other prisoners all assumed that she sexually abused the girls, the daughter discovers from one of Hanna’s favorites that they were actually reading aloud to her. At this point, Hanna, her eyes tired, turns around to look at Michael, who realizes she was aware of his presence the whole time. The judge asks the lawyer as well as Hanna’s lawyer if they have further questions. Michael, who knows this is a good opportunity for Hanna, inwardly urges Hanna’s lawyer to ask her if “she wanted to make that final month bearable” for her “favorites,” but neither Hanna nor her lawyer speak up.
The daughter’s testimony provides us with yet another hint at Hanna’s illiteracy. That Hanna turns around to look at Michael when the daughter reveals that Hanna had the prisoners read to her is perhaps an acknowledgment, to Michael at least, of her illiteracy. It is also a sign that Michael has not been such an invisible observer as he thought—Hanna knew he was there, and has acted as she has with that knowledge of his presence. Though the new testimony provides Hanna an opportunity to mount a better defense, Hanna — either out of her unwillingness to give the barest hint of her illiteracy or out of her ignorance that this is a good opportunity for her — does not take action.
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon