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"The Reader", By Bernhard Schlink : Guilt And Shame

1054 words - 4 pages

"The Reader", by Bernhard Schlink is set in postwar Germany and tells the story of fifteen-year-old Michael Berg and his affair with a woman named Hanna, who was twice his age. After some time, she disappears. When Michael next sees Hanna, he is a young law student and she is on trial for her work in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Their feelings of guilt and shame lead to Hanna's tragic death near the end of the story. Bernhard Schlink is trying to portray these two emotions in his book as things that can destroy one's life, and possibly the life of those around us. Examples of them can be found throughout the whole book. One of the first major examples is the shame that many adults, including Michael's father, felt because of their tolerance and acceptance of the Nazi regime. The second is Michael's feelings of guilt for "betraying" Hanna by not acknowledging her at the pool. The third example is the guilt that Michael feels for comparing his wife to Hanna. The fourth is Michael's shame for having been in love with Hanna. The fifth, and possibly the most tragic example in the book is Hanna's own shame of being illiterate.During the time when the book was set, many parents lived in shame for tolerating the actions of the Nazi regime. Michael Berg explains how young people reacted to their parents as more and more was being discovered about Nazi atrocities by saying, "We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their mist". (92) This shame prevented Michael's father from ever creating a true bond with his children. Michael's father was "...undemonstrative, and could neither share his feelings with us children, not could he deal with the feeling we had for him". (139) Even though he was a philosophy professor who dealt with moral issues on a daily basis, Michael's father, like many parents at the time, did not feel like he had any moral authority over his children. This left Michael, even after his father's death, with the feeling that he was not properly taken care of by his father.At one point in the story, Michael was at the pool with his friends, when he saw Hanna looking at him from a distance. He was not sure if she wanted to be seen with him, or if he wanted to be seen with her for that matter, so he did nothing. The day after this event, Hanna disappeared "Even worse than my physical desire, was my sense of guilt. Why hadn't I jumped up immediately when she stood there and run to her!" (83) Michael later said. For years after Hanna's disappearance, Michael blamed himself for Hanna leaving. He also struggled with his relationships because he tried very hard not to get emotionally involved, out of fear of being hurt, or even worse, hurting the other person.Michael got married and had a daughter, yet he was not able to hold on to this marriage very long because of his own guilt. He could not stop...

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