What are some key symbols found within The Reader?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I certainly think that illiteracy, as a concept, is a symbol.  Hana's illiteracy, her inability to decode, is representative of so much in her life.  It is the basis for her poor decision making in life and in love, and also represents the myopia that guides her choices.  This illiteracy is also something that represents a barrier of sorts, in that she does not have to fully understand the implications of her actions.  When she does learn how to read, how to "decode," she recognizes what she did and understands the full implications of her life and her decisions.  In this, she cannot live with herself and what she has done.  In her life, being illiterate is symbolic of many different conditions.  Michael also suffers from a form of illiteracy in terms of his own failure to emotionally decode.  In this, Michael cannot fully understand or comprehend his own sense of identity both away and with Hana.  When he recognizes his critical moment of choice, in which he could speak to save Hana, he fails to decode properly in a decision that haunts him.  Michael's own emotional illiteracy forms the basis of his own character's narrative, and defines an element of change and understanding throughout the novel.  Illiteracy and the inability to decode properly serve as a specific symbol of so much in terms of failure amongst the characters in the novel.