The Reader

Themes

Memory is a powerful concept. Often when an individual undergoes a traumatic situation, the ramifications of these actions seep into an individualfs psyche unknowingly. In effect this passes through memory and becomes sub-consciously buried within a personfs behavioural patterns generally. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink explores the concept of a young mans subconscious desire for a woman whom he gcanft remember to forgeth (1Memento) as she is so deeply inlaid within his soul.


Critically acclaimed as gA formally beautiful, disturbing, and finally morally devastating novel. From the first pagec it ensnares both heart and mindh ( Los Angeles Times), the novel tells the story of a young boy, 15, Michael Berg, through his own interior narration. He finds himself emotionally and sexually attached to a woman of over twice his age, Hanna Schmitz. She then breaks his heart by deserting him. Michael is emotionally torn by this incident and consequently develops a subconscious obsession with her.


Years after the mysterious disappearance of Hanna, Michael marries a woman named Gertrude. gGertrude was smart, efficient, and loyalh (3p 171) yet she never fulfilled Michael in the same way as Hanna had previously. Unknowingly he drove her away through his constant comparisons and dissatisfaction that Gertrude could not be the woman he wanted. gI could never stop comparing the way it was with Gertrude and the way it had been with Hanna; again and again, Gertrude and I would hold each other, and I would feel that something was wrong, that she was wrong, that she moved wrong and felt wrong, smelled wrong and tasted wrong.h (p 171) In his relationship with Gertrude, Michael cannot remember to forget Hanna as, at the time, he doesnft realise but subconsciously he is comparing the two and sabotaging his relationship.


In the unconscious state, dreams are the purest form of truth into a personfs subconscious. In Michaelfs dreams he physically yearns for Hannafs presence. gIt took a while before my body stopped yearning for hers; sometimes I myself was aware of my arms and legs groping for her in my sleep, and my brother reported more than once at table that I called out eHannaf in the nighth (p 85). The helpless nature of Michaels actions show how much Hanna has affected his subconscious and although he is made aware of his actions, his physical dependence comes from the deep scaring within him.
On another occasion, after Hannafs death, it is documented that Michael once again subconsciously desires her presence. Michael dreams of Hanna while travelling through the countryside to bid Hannafs final wishes.
gI dreamed of Hanna and myself in a house in the autumn-blazed hills that were lining our route. Hanna was older than when I had met her and younger than when I had met her again, older than me, more attractive than in earlier years, more relaxed in her movements with age, more at home in her own body. I saw her getting out of the car and picking up shopping bags, saw her going through the garden into the house, saw her set down the bags and go upstairs ahead of me. My longing for Hanna became so strong that it hurt. I struggled against the longing, argued that it went against Hannafs and my reality, the reality of our ages, the reality of our circumstancesh.


The interior narration here allows the focus to hold a contemplative and introspective view of Michaels thought patterns. He remembers his dreams and notes them as being irrational and beyond all reason of reality, yet he finds himself yearning for her still. Hanna has had such an impact on Michaels emotional memory that, as much as Michael tries to occupy his mind in order to forget her, he just cant. Hanna is imbedded into his psyche and therefore rendering him completely powerless to her influential force that emerges within him, subconsciously.


Another issue developed within the novel is the idea of the affect of the war with the German society. The people of Germany cannot manage to forget the horrific actions that occurred during WWII, as with Michaels link to Hanna, because the events were so tragic that they are imprinted on the subconscious minds of every member of society. They try to forget the past yet their intentions are thwarted by the power of their memories and the affect they have had on them mentally and sometimes physically.
An example of this in the novel is Hannafs festering guilt about her cruel and unethical acts towards the Jewish women and children that were in her care. The climax of the novel sees Hannafs desperation to rid herself from these memories as she commits suicide. Before her death, Hanna speaks to Michael about the lingering spirits of the dead that haunt her soul, gThey came every night, whether I wanted them or noth (p 197). Hanna accepts her sins and seeks forgiveness from the spirits of those whom she acted so unjustly towards yet they do not grant her, her wish and do not leave her alone. They come every night, just as the memories subconsciously reside within her mind, never to leave. Hanna cannot remember to forget the horrific memories of her experiences during the 1940fs because they have become a part of her subconscious.