In The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, what is Michael guilty of?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is an excellent novel that explores so many issues concerning Germany's relationship with its past and the Holocaust. Of course, the central way in which these issues are explored is through the central character of Michael, and in particular his relationship with his past. Having had an affair with Hanna as a teenager, he refuses to visit her in prison, though the fact that he continues to read to her still indicates that she is important to him. He seems to be a character that cannot allow the past and the present to mix. In a sense, this is his biggest failing, and, as Schlink seems to suggest, this is Germany's failing too, in that the past cannot just be "dealt with" by being locked up or ignored. Hanna's suicide can perhaps be seen as a silent protest against this view. However, at the end of the tale, it is clear that Hanna is a character who will outlive her life in the impact that she has on Michael. She will continue to shape who he is as a person in precisely the same way that the Holocaust cannot be dismissed and will continue to form our identities.

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