The Reader Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 58 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Reader.
This section contains 492 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Reader Summary & Study Guide Description

The Reader Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles and a Free Quiz on The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.

In 1958, Michael Berg is a middle-class, 15-year-old living in West Germany. As he is recovering from a prolonged illness, he meets a 38-year-old working-class woman, named Hanna Schmitz. Hanna quickly seduces Michael, and the two characters begin a relationship that lasts for several months. Michael begins regularly to visit Hanna at her apartment where they have sex. Hanna mentally dominates Michael and controls the relationship. Michael falls in love with Hanna, but the emotional attachment is not reciprocated. Upon Hanna's request Michael begins to read aloud to her on each of his visits. When Michael is not having sex with Hanna he attends school, develops friendships and infatuations, and otherwise behaves like a typical teenager. Then one day Hanna simply vanishes, and Michael is left feeling guilty and sickened by the strange end of the relationship.

Michael finishes high school and advances to university where he studies law. One of his law seminars requires him to attend a Nazi war crimes trial, and he is randomly assigned to a particular trial, which begins in the fall of 1966. Michael is stunned when he recognizes one of the accused war criminals is Hanna. Through the trial he learns that Hanna was a member of the SS and a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp and another satellite work camp. As an SS guard Hanna would have younger, weaker, prisoners read to her before she sent them off to their murder. Hanna, accused of several atrocities, is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During the trial Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate - and to hide her shame of illiteracy she has made several poor decisions in her life.

Michael gets married and fathers a child. He is unable to succeed in a long-term relationship, however, and divorces after only a few years. He is largely uninvolved with his family and does not have any strong friendships. Eventually Michael begins to correspond with Hanna in prison. Instead of writing her letters, however, he records himself reading aloud from books. He forwards the cassette tapes, devoid of any personal communication, to Hanna in prison. He eventually receives a 'thank you' note from Hanna who has used her time in prison to learn to read and write.

In 1984, after serving a term of 18 years, Hanna's sentence is commuted. The prison warden writes to Michael and asks him to become involved in Hanna's release from prison and reintegration into society. Michael obtains an apartment and a job, but he does not communicate with Hanna directly. On her last night in prison Hanna hangs herself in her jail cell. When Michael arrives to receive Hanna the prison warden informs him of Hanna's suicide and allows him to enter the prison and view Hanna's small prison cell. Michael then contemplates the nature of his relationship with Hanna and compares it to the sociopolitical relationship of the post-war German generation to the generation of their parents.

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This section contains 492 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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