While working as a clerk, Michael marries Gertrud, a law student whom he met at the ski lodge and who becomes pregnant with his child. The narrator describes his wife as “smart, efficient, and loyal” and his marriage as unhappy. Despite Michael’s desire to “be free of” Hanna, he keeps Hanna a secret from Gertrud and never stops comparing Gertrud to Hanna.
The emotional distance that Michael feels after Hanna leaves him is evident both in his secrecy about Hanna and in his depiction of his wife as “smart, efficient, and loyal” – adjectives that might be better suited to an employer’s description of a good employee rather than a husband’s description of his wife.
Michael and Gertrud divorce when their daughter, Julia, is five. Though the divorce is smooth and without bitterness, Michael feels “tormented” that he is denying Julia “the sense of warmth and safety she obviously craved.” Julia’s unhappiness because of the divorce makes Michael feel guilty and pushes him to become more open in his relationships and to discuss Hanna. However, the narrator claims that the women he dated did not want to hear much about Hanna, and so he stopped talking about her, because “the truth of what one says lies in what one does.”
Michael’s emotional distance makes his marriage to Gertrud unsuccessful, causing him to feel guilt about the impact of the divorce on his daughter. However, unlike his guilt about Hanna, which was ultimately destructive and distanced him from others, his guilt over his daughter’s sorrow pushes him to become more open in his relationships. Yet Hanna continues to loom over his life, whether he talks about her or not.