The Reader

The Reader

The Reader Part 3, Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Hanna commits suicide. When Michael arrives at the prison, the warden questions him, asking if he had noticed any warning signs during their phone call, how they knew each other, why he sent the tapes, and how he knew she was illiterate. Michael tells her that he hadn’t noticed anything suspicious but is reluctant and too emotional to answer her other questions.
This is the climactic tragedy of the book, and Michael is devastated by Hanna’s death. Despite his resentment about the pain she caused him and her past crimes, he still feels deeply connected to her and she has a been a huge part of his life.
Themes
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The warden then shows Michael Hanna’s cell. Its shelves are filled with tea tins, his tapes, and books. Michael remarks that some of the tapes are missing, and the warden tells him that Hanna had lent some to an aid society for blind prisoners. Inspecting her bookshelves, he notices an autobiography by Rudolf Hess, a Nazi politician; Hannah Arendt’s report on Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi organizer, during his trial in Jerusalem; as well as various works of Holocaust survivor literature. The warden informs Michael that Hanna began reading about the concentration camps as soon as she learned how to read.
That Hanna donated some of Michael’s tapes to blind prisoners demonstrates her capacity for compassion. That she immediately began reading about the camps after learning how to read suggests that she was trying to better understand her role in the Holocaust and to take responsibility for her guilt. Once again it’s suggested that part of the reason for her complicity in the Holocaust was ignorance and indifference.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Michael then notices the many pictures and papers hanging above Hanna’s bed. Hanna had copied or cut out quotes, poems, and articles from newspaper and magazines, as well as a newspaper photograph that Michael recognizes. In the photograph, a younger version of Michael is shaking hands with his principal at his high school graduation. Michael realizes that as the photo was taken after Hanna had left the city, she must have gone to certain lengths to obtain a copy of the paper. Wondering if she had had the photo with her at the trial, Michael begins to tear up.
To Michael’s tearful surprise, Hanna had somehow obtained and kept with her an old newspaper photo of Michael, suggesting that perhaps he meant more to her than he realized. This is also another (and an especially tragic) example of the image as memory—while Michael is haunted by mental “snapshots” of Hanna during their relationship, Hanna keeps a literal photo of the young Michael with her.
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
The warden tells him that Hanna taught herself to read with Michael’s tapes by comparing the sound recording to books she borrowed from the prison library. As Michael tries to fight back his tears, the warden tells him that Hanna always hoped he would write back to her. Michael is silent, so the warden, picking up one of Hanna’s tea tins, takes out a paper that turns out to be Hanna’s suicide note. Hanna had left money from the tea tin as well as her bank account to Michael, who was to send it to the Jewish daughter who had survived the church fire. Aside from this instruction, Hanna had left Michael no other message but a hello, much to Michael’s dismay.
Hanna’s last wish is an acknowledgment of her guilt as well as a sign that she is trying to take responsibility to a certain extent. And quite probably, her suicide itself was another act of guilt, the ultimate expression of shame and remorse. Even to the last (her sparse “hello”), Hanna remains inscrutable to Michael—she was a crucial part of his life and a woman who loved him and who he loved, but also a person he never fully understood.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
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Michael asks the warden what Hanna was like during her time in prison. The warden compares Hanna’s life to that of a nun—Hanna acted as if she had “moved here of her own accord and voluntarily subjected herself to our system, as if the rather monotonous work was a sort of meditation.” Hanna was respected by the other prisoners, who turned to her for advice. The warden notes that a few years ago, Hanna seems to have given up—she gained weight and didn’t wash as often as she used to. Hanna didn’t seem unhappy to the warden, but seemed to regard prison life as too sociable for her. The warden then corrects her earlier assumption that Hanna had given up and claims that Hanna “redefined her place in a way that was right for her, but no longer impressed the other women.”
Hanna’s initial attitude toward prison is much like her attitude before and during the trial. Her pride in maintaining a certain image to others causes her to act as if she is collected and in control, in spite of her circumstances. Eventually, however, Hanna learns to give up this pride, just as she learns to overcome her shame of her illiteracy to teach herself how to read.
Themes
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
Michael asks to see Hanna’s body, and the warden grants the request. She tells him that Hanna’s suicide note didn’t mention any reasons for her act, and the warden continues that she is angry with Hanna for killing herself and with Michael for giving so little explanation about his connection to Hanna and her suicide. The warden then leads Michael to the infirmary, where Hanna’s body lays on a stretcher. Michael gazes at her face and is finally able to recognize the young woman she once was.
Michael’s recognition of Hanna as a young woman shows that he is finally able to reconcile the Nazi prison guard who sent countless people to their deaths with the woman he once loved. There is no easy conclusion to be reached here, just the acknowledgment of the truth of this person in all her complexity and the enormity of her influence on Michael’s life.
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