The Reader

The Reader

The Reader Part 3, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Michael visits the prison for the first time, looking for Hanna. A guard points her out to him, and Michael is shocked to see an old, heavy woman with gray hair and wrinkles. When Hanna realizes Michael is watching her, she is initially happy to see him but then looks “uncertain and hurt” when she sees Michael’s disbelief. Though “the light go[es] out of her face,” when Michael approaches her, she greets him amicably with his old nickname “kid.” The narrator then describes how his younger self had loved the “freshness” of Hanna’s smell, regardless of whether it was the scent of her sweat or her perfume. Yet now, in the prison, Michael only “smell[s] an old woman.”
By this time, it has been nearly 20 years since the trial, and Hanna is now an old woman. Though Hanna still greets Michael with her pet name for him, Michael does not recognize the woman he once loved in her, suggesting that the relationship they once had cannot be resurrected. Hanna, for her part, seems crushed that Michael no longer sees her as he once did—she has lost her power over him as well as her connection to him.
Themes
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
The Image as Memory and the Gaze Theme Icon
Michael realizes he has disappointed Hanna with his reaction and tries to make up for it, expressing his happiness about her upcoming release and telling her about the apartment, job, and resources he found for her. Their conversation turns to reading, and Hanna assumes that Michael will no longer read aloud to her. Though Michael does not outwardly agree, he cannot see himself either recording tapes for her or reading to her in person. He tells her how proud he was that she had learned to read, but inwardly realizes how much it must have cost Hanna to learn, only to have him fail to answer her notes or visit her. Michael feels guilty that he had confined Hanna to a “niche,” but then asks himself indignantly, “Why should I have given her a place in my life?”
Michael is conflicted between guilt that he has somehow failed Hanna and indignation that she has hurt him. Now that Hanna is about to be released, Michael no longer feels able to make the tapes for her, as it would be too similar to their relationship during his teenage years. While Hanna was in prison, Michael had sent the tapes because he felt a sense of responsibility toward her, but was only able to act on it from a distance — whereas in Part 2, when he had felt responsible for her, he refrained from acting because of the possibility of facing Hanna again.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon
He asks Hanna if she had ever thought about her crimes when they were together, but Hanna evades the question, saying that no one understood her, and that therefore no one, not even the courts, “could call [her] to account”—no one but the dead. Hanna tells Michael that the dead visited her every night in prison, but before the trial, she “could still chase them away.” Michael doesn’t know how to respond and says nothing. At Hanna’s prompting, he talks briefly about his ex-wife and daughter instead, but Hanna has nothing to say either. Michael then tells her he will pick her up next week, and they exchange uncomfortable goodbyes.
Hanna’s evasive answer implies that not even Michael really understood her. Though she recognizes her guilt to an extent, her claim that only the dead can hold her responsible for her actions implies that she is excluding the living (such as the Jewish daughter who survived the fire, and Michael himself) as her victims. Though Hanna now seems aware of the impact her actions have had on her prisoners during the Holocaust, she does not seem to empathize with the pain her actions inflicted on Michael.
Themes
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Holocaust Theme Icon
Generational and Parent-Child Conflict Theme Icon
Reading and Illiteracy Theme Icon