Assess the veracity of the following claim:  "The Reader is driven by the self-accusation of 'the reader' himself, Michael Berg."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there is much in way of truth in the statement.  It is evident that Michael's own self- assessment of his own guilt in his relationship with Hanna is part of what drives his characterization.  Schlink's work is about the idea of ethical responsibility and the role of guilt in both public and private realms.  The self- accusation that Michael endures is also what Hanna endures in her own understanding of self.  Part of the reason why Hanna hangs herself is that her empowerment in learning how to read also made her aware of what she, as a member of the SS, did to Jewish people.  It makes sense that on the news of her hanging, Michael sees books about the concentration camps.  Hanna's own sense of life while in jail is driven by the accusation from her own sense of self.  She recognizes this when she tells Michael that only "the dead can judge."  This is something that is both validated and somewhat repudiated when she hangs herself.  In this, the book becomes about her own self- accusation, perhaps reflecting how Schlink feels that self- accusation and accepting responsibility in the Holocaust is something that can be shared by many, and not just one.


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