Bernhard Schlink’s the Reader, the Trauma of Second-Generation Germans

Authors

  • Gamze Sabancı Uzun Assistant Professor at İstanbul Aydin University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.26417/ejls.v10i2.p34-40

Keywords:

Holocaust, Trauma, Nazi, Abuse, Silence

Abstract

Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader (1995) has been a very controversial book since its publication. Not only it portrays a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old Michael and 36-year-old Hanna without any judgment on the part of the author as the voice of the society, but it also leaves a space for the reader to sympathize with a Nazi criminal. The analyses presented in this article will take the cue from the current discussion of The Reader as a Holocaust novel. Thus, it will be argued that Michael’s victimization by Hanna is similar to her treatment of the Jews in the camp. The examination of the novel commences with the analysis of his relationship with Hanna, which is the focus of the first part of the novel, revealing that silence is the key element of their oedipal mother?son relationship, which they use as a strategy for safeguarding their bond. This will be followed by the analysis of Michael’s silence during Hanna’s trial, the findings of which indicate that, as an adult, Michael is keen to put his traumatic past behind him and thus distances himself from language by remaining silent about his experiences. Henceforth, his actions resemble the Jewish survivors’ refusal to discuss what happened to them in the camps. Therefore, “silence” emerges as an overarching theme in the novel and will be the key term in this article that links Jewish victims with the German perpetrators, as well as their descendants. In closing, it will be posited that The Reader can be viewed as a Holocaust novel, not due to its treatment of the Holocaust through Michael’s solidarity with an ex-perpetrator, but because of his genuine empathy with and understanding of the nameless Jewish survivor that is revealed at the end of the novel.

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Published

2018-03-02