How people "read" their moral choices is of significant concern to the development of The Reader. Hanna has to be "the reader" of the most critical decision of her life when she is on trial: Either she is going to admit to being illiterate or accept a role of something that she did not do. Hanna values the perceived social stigma of illiteracy above all, something that she cannot accept. In this, she "reads" her best option of accepting responsibility for the deaths of hundreds. As she learns to actually read, she learns of what the Holocaust was and takes her own life. She learns to read and then reads into her own being, accepting that there can be no other solution for her but to take her own life. Hanna is the agent of her own "reading" in making critical moral decisions in her own life and being in the world.
Michael's reading is clouded by an ethical and moral illiteracy. Where Hanna cannot make out words and letters, Michael cannot make out what to do and how to act. He is clouded by philosophical inquiry, legal jargon, intellectual barriers, and most important, emotional partitions that end up dividing him from feeling and "reading" what must be done. He does not speak up in Hanna's trial, knowing that his testimony can save her. He lives in regret for being silent, communicating impersonally through tape recordings and dreading any type of emotional intimacy with someone whose life was so impacted by his presence. Michael struggles with how to "read" his own moral and ethical decisions that have been made and need to be made. Hanna is shown to have learned how to read in her consciousness. Michael struggles through his emotional and ethical illiteracy.