Typewriter (c) JosephHart

Character “Hanna” in The Reader

Hanna is illiterate. She cannot, or only very poorly, read and write. Michael learns this first in the trial phase, “Hanna could not read and write.” There are more references, but it will be clear only at this moment. The first clue before is her request “Read it to me!” “You have such a beautiful voice, kid, I like rather listen to you than reading myself.” Hanna does not tell Michael why he should read to her. This behavior is typical because illiterate people try to hide it as much as possible. Michael is not able to reveal her analphabetism just from this situation. On the spring holiday, Michael and Hanna are going for a bike ride. Hanna leaves Michael alone with the planning. “I’m too excited. You’ll be fine.” She does not like to risk having to write something.

On this journey, they have a conflict that seems to be absurd from Michael’s point of view. He gets up early and writes Hanna a note that he goes out to get breakfast.

When he comes back, Hanna is really angry and beats him with a belt. If you know Hanna’s problem, you will understand this situation better. She feels helpless because of the lack of information.  Michael could have written that he was leaving her on that note instead of the simple explanation that he just went out to get some breakfast.

Michael discovers her analphabetism in the trial phase. At first, she denies that she wrote the report. When the court asks her for a writing sample, Hanna admits she wrote this report, but, in fact, she has not done so. This behaviour is also to disguise that she is not able to read or write. At this moment, some things are much clearer to Michael: He can now understand this conflict on the bike trip, why she did not want a promotion at her job, and why the prisoners at the concentration camp read to her.

On the other hand, there are new questions: Why does she fear more her analphabetism becomes revealed instead of being treated like a criminal? This shows again that Hanna takes everything on her, just to hide her secret.

First, in detention, Hanna learns to read and write by using Michaels cassettes and related books. This situation is quite hard for Hanna, and she writes a note to thank Michael for a story. Her writing looks like a child‘s.


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