One element of the relationship between both works is the display of characters that struggle with what to do in the face of intense historical reality. Oskar struggles with what path needs to be taken in the wake of the September 11 attacks. He is torn, weighed down by the past and also driven to go back and unearth it. Oskar's listening to his father's final phone call reflects such division. He hates hearing the desperation in his father's voice, but must listen to it anyway because it is the last words of his father. This divided consciousness is also seen in how Oskar wants to know about the death of his father, but at the same time does not wish to know. There is division in Oskar, struggling to understand that which is in the past and how this impacts his future.
This divisional conflict is also present in Hanna and Michael. Schlink's work makes itself at home in the struggle that individuals endure in reconciling past and present. Like Oskar, there is much in way of difficulty in accepting the past and its impact on the future. When Hanna asks "What would you do?" to the courtroom about her actions, it is as much to all as it is a statement of utter confusion on how the present looks in light of the past. Michael's struggle to speak in his former lover's defense also adds to the divided consciousness that is such as part of the narrative. In both Michael and Hanna, like Oskar, there is a challenge in understanding what to do in the present in light of the past. September 11 and the Holocaust has caused these characters to question their own identity and their own embrace of "the right thing to do." This becomes part of the relationship both works have towards one another. The weight of the past both animates and paralyzes individuals simultaneously.