The to feel guilty. Michael experiences guilt

The Reader, by Bernard Schlink, is a novel that focuses on the aftermath of the Holocaust and how this affects the relationship between the protagonist, Michael, and his lover, Hanna.  Schlink utilizes these main characters to build a connection between illiteracy and guilt throughout the novel. Hanna’s illiteracy leads to her lack of guilt towards the Holocaust and Michael’s guilt towards her. As Hanna becomes literate, she begins to understand the true consequences of her actions and thus begins to feel guilty. Michael experiences guilt for loving Hanna, a criminal, and for not helping her when he could. Schlink uses the relationship between illiteracy and guilt to relate Hanna’s actions to her generation’s willful ignorance to the horrors of the Holocaust. Hanna’s illiteracy causes her to be simple-minded and lack rational thinking. Hanna merely viewed her position in the Holocaust in a professional sense; she saw her job as an obligation instead of thinking with her morals or emotions. Schlink uses the dialogue between Hanna and the judge, during her prosecution, to reveal that Hanna truly did not understand the extent of horror she was inflicting on the victims of the Holocaust because of her lack of guilt. Schlink does so in the sixth chapter of Part 2 of the novel when Hanna is asked about the motivation behind her actions, and she answers with, “I … I mean … so what would you have done?” (Schlink 41). Hanna’s inability to understand the intent of the judge’s question is an example of her social and moral illiteracy. Hanna did not understand what she could have done differently, because, to her, there was no other option. When the judge asks Hanna if she knew the women would be killed, she not only admits that she knew but she attempts to justify their deaths by saying that “the old ones had to make room for the new ones.” She only saw it as a job she had to fulfill and so she did as she was told. This was because her illiteracy resulted in a lack of a moral compass. This lack is portrayed again later on in the trial, during another dialogue between Hanna and the judge. “Were you afraid? Were you afraid the prisoners would overpower you?” “That they would . . . no, but how could we have restored order? There would have been chaos, and we had no way to handle that. And if they’d tried to escape . . .” (Schlink 47).  Here, the judge is attempting to find a reason behind why she did not open the church doors and instead let the prisoners die. However, Hanna proves to him once again that the reason behind her actions was because she was merely following orders. This lack of reasoning is what leads to her absence of remorse. As Hanna slowly became literate, she began undergoing the process of guilt that she did not go through when she was illiterate. It is only by learning how to read that Hanna is finally able to understand her role as a perpetrator of the Holocaust and the impact her actions have had on her victims. Additionally, ” as soon as (Hanna) learned to read, she began to read about the concentration camps.” (Schlink 72). This suggests that she was trying to better understand her role in the Holocaust and to take responsibility for her guilt. “I went over to the bookshelf. Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Tadeusz Borowski, Jean Améry—the literature of the victims, next to the autobiography of Rudolf Hess, Hannah Arendt’s report on Eichmann in Jerusalem, and scholarly literature on the camps.” (Schlink 72). Here, Schlink uses punctuation, specifically commas, to list the books Hanna read in prison. This long list helps portray Hanna’s true interest in the subject, and that she was devoted to educating herself about it. Schlink also uses symbolism to portray the guilt Hanna felt after being able to read.  “There is still money in the lavender tea tin. Give it to Michael Berg; he should send it, along with the 7,000 marks in the bank, to the daughter who survived the fire in the church with her mother.” (Schlink 72). Schlink uses the tea tin to symbolize Hanna’s- and the perpetrators’-atonement towards the victims of the Holocaust.This is because the fact that Hanna asked Micheal to give the tea tin back to the survivor shows that she was asking for atonement for participating in the Holocaust. This is one of the only times Hanna is seen feeling remorse towards her actions. After learning to read, she was able to understand the moral of her practice, and thus felt guilt towards her victims.Hanna’s illiteracy affects Micheal because he feels guilty for not helping her, and also for loving her. During the trial, when Hanna was accused of writing the reports, Micheal did not defend her even though he knew she could not have written them. He expresses his feelings of guilt for “betraying” Hanna by making a series of cassette tapes of himself reading books aloud to her (Schlink 49). “There were many nights when I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours… it was always Hanna who predominated, I read to Hanna. I read to Hanna on tape.” (Schlink 64). Here, Schlink uses varied sentence structure to emphasize the fact that Micheal was still attached to Hanna, because he felt like he betrayed her. Schlink uses the tapes to symbolize their continuing connection and Michael’s feelings of guilt towards her. However, the tapes also represent Micheal’s distance from Hanna. This is because Micheal denied Hanna of any communication with him by never visiting Hanna in person or even sending her personal messages on tape. His sole means of communication with her are the readings themselves. Micheal does so because he also feels ashamed for ever loving Hanna. This is portrayed when Schlink writes, “So I was still guilty. And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of having loved a criminal.” (49). Schlink uses diction when Micheal describes Hanna as a “criminal” to demonstrate Michael’s shame towards loving Hanna due to her role in the Holocaust. Micheal reveals how he feels towards Hanna, and the conflict he faces as a result of loving her. He is torn between feeling guilty for not helping her and feeling guilty for loving her.Hanna’s illiteracy serves as a metaphor for the willful ignorance of her generation to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Hanna went to great lengths to hide her illiteracy instead of addressing the problem.When reflecting on the impact of her illiteracy at her trial, Michael notes that the enormous amount of energy Hanna must have spent on hiding her illiteracy. “She must have been completely exhausted. Her struggle was not limited to the trial. She was struggling, as she always had struggled, not to show what she could do but to hide what she couldn’t do.” (Schlink 49). Here, Micheal acknowledges the struggle Hanna went through to hide her secret. Hanna was so ashamed of her illiteracy that she admitted to writing the reports when she clearly could not have. Similarly, those of Hanna’s generation who perpetrated or turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, could have intervened, but instead agreed, either actively or passively, to the mass murder. Throughout the novel, Schlink utilizes the characters of Micheal and Hanna, and the relationship between them, to build a connection between illiteracy and guilt. Hanna’s illiteracy affects both her and Micheal’s lives to a great extent. Her illiteracy creates a barrier between her and her moral compass, and causes her to lack remorse. However, as Hanna becomes literate, she begins to understand the true consequences of her actions and thus begins to feel guilty. Micheal experiences guilt for loving Hanna, a criminal, but also for betraying her. Schlink uses Hanna’s illiteracy to present a metaphor about the ignorance of her generation towards the Holocaust.Works CitedLitCharts. “Reading and Illiteracy Theme Analysis.” LitCharts, www.litcharts.com/lit/the-reader/themes/reading-and-illiteracy

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