Four years after Michael starts sending Hanna the tapes, Hanna sends him a hand-written note thanking him. The handwriting looks like child’s writing, but Michael is overjoyed that Hanna can finally read and write. In the past few years, Michael had read about illiteracy, the helplessness that it inflicts on people’s lives, and the energy it costs them to hide it. Though Michael is proud that Hanna has taken “a step towards liberation,” he also feels sorry for her, for having a “delayed and failed life.”
Hanna’s newfound literacy is a mark of independence, but it is a bittersweet victory. That Hanna had waited so long to learn left her with a “delayed and failed life,” one filled with her struggle to hide her illiteracy and that ultimately led her to prison.
After Hanna’s first note, she regularly sends him brief notes thanking him, commenting on the book Michael read to her, or describing her life in prison. Though she assumes all the books Michael records are contemporary, Hanna’s literary observations are “astonishingly on the mark.” Despite Hanna’s many notes, Michael never writes to Hanna but keeps reading to her, even when he is in America or on vacation. Reading to Hanna is Michael’s “way of speaking to her, with her.” Michael keeps all of her notes, observing that over the years her handwriting became “lighter and more confident.”
After she learns how to read, Hanna’s observations are “astonishingly on the mark,” suggesting that her previous misunderstandings and misinterpretations were not from a lack of intelligence but rather a lack of applied thought. Though Michael keeps sending her tapes, he never returns Hanna’s messages, maintaining his distance by withholding himself from her (similar to how she once withheld herself from him).