The Reader

The Reader


Bernhard Schlink

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The Reader: Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

At this point, the narrative jumps back in time to when Michael is still married to Gertrud and the concentration camps seminar professor has just died. Despite Michael’s initial reluctance to go to the funeral and to be reminded of the trial, the memories come back to him and he takes a streetcar to the funeral “as if [he] had an appointment with the past that [he] couldn’t miss.” The narrator recollects how different the streetcars used to look. He remembers how each conductor’s personality determined the car’s atmosphere and inwardly kicks himself for not seeing what Hanna was like as a conductor.
Though Michael tries to avoid his past, Hanna and the trial still haunt him. Michael appears almost nostalgic as he thinks back to his time as a teenager and law student and reflects on his memories of how streetcars looked back then.
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
At the graveyard, Michael stands apart from the mourners and recognizes one as a former classmate from the professor’s concentration camps seminar. They exchange pleasantries, and the man asks Michael why he attended the trial every day, noting that the other students all wondered why he was always staring at a single defendant. The man talks on, chatting about the other students in the class before asking again what was going on between him and Hanna. Unsure of how to answer, Michael dodges the question with a quick goodbye and escapes into a passing streetcar.
Michael’s uncertainty about how to answer his classmate’s question about Hanna highlights the fact that he has still not come to terms even with their relationship, much less her Nazi past and thus with the generational conflict that made him feel especially complicit. Once again, Michael chooses to distance himself rather than engage these difficult questions directly.
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Secrets, Indifference, and Emotional Distance Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon