The Reader

The Reader


Bernhard Schlink

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The Reader: Part 3, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

The narrator tells us that Hanna’s death and his meeting with the Jewish woman happened ten years ago. After Hanna’s death, Michael was plagued with guilt and often questioned whether he had betrayed her, whether he was guilty for loving her, and sometimes whether he was responsible for her suicide. Soon after Hanna’s death, Michael decides to write their story “to be free of it” but finds himself unable to access the right memories. Only after Michael “made peace with it” do the details of their relationship resurface. Michael notes that this story is so engrained into his life that new feelings of pain and guilt easily allow his old pain and guilt to reemerge, and he admits that he may never be free of it. The narrator closes by saying that he donated Hanna’s money to the Jewish League Against Illiteracy. Michael then visits Hanna’s grave for the first and only time.
After Hanna’s death, Michael is haunted by the same questions of guilt and betrayal that had haunted him during and after the affair. Though Michael admits he may never be free of his past with Hanna, he finds he is only able to write about their story when he leaves the memories alone, rather than forcing them to the surface. The passage of time allows Michael to “[make] peace with it” and to write their story. Thus the book we are reading is, perhaps, a kind of therapeutic exercise for Michael, an acknowledgment of the truth of his past and his complicated connection with Hanna. Michael’s choice of donation is a form of active hope, an attempt to use the tragedies of the past to avoid future tragedies, and to combat ignorance, indifference, and evil in all its varied forms.
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon