Explore the themes of guilt, atonement, and redemption in The Reader.
Bernard Schlink uses Hannah and Michael to construct themes of guilt, atonement, and redemption in The Reader.
The most prominent example of guilt in The Reader is the author’s use of Hanna as a symbol of guilt. In the story, Hannah represents the German party and others who were not the active agents of the Holocaust, but rather the supporting roles. It is known that, after the war's end, many claimed to be "innocent" because they’re actions were incomparable to those of Hitler or Goebbels’. However, the reality that is suggested, is that any individual of the time who chose a path of convenience instead of resistance bears some level of guilt. During the trial, Hanna’s questioning to the judge “What would you do?” shows that she accepts the guilt incurred from her actions.
Between Hannah and Michael, Schlink creates an underlying burden of guilt in their relationship. In the novel, Michael’s guilt towards Hannah develops throughout his life. In the beginning of the story, he feels disgrace towards himself for the fact that he’s secluded Hannah from those in his personal life. The guilt Michael feels continues to grow and change throughout the story. During Hanna’s trial, Michael is faced with the conflict of right and wrong. He’s...