Plot Summary

Plot Summary

Well, it is always hard to present a good plot summary of an entire book. After many revisions we can say that this plot summary of The Reader tells you all the essential and important points of the entire story in under 1000 words:

Bernhard Schlink begins his novel, The Reader, with a scene of the main character. Michael Berg, a 14-year-old boy, is on his way home from school when he suddenly vomits on the pavement. Hanna Schmitz, 35 years old, lives in a flat near the pavement. She takes care of Michael and brings him home to his family. On the same day, the doctor diagnoses Michael with jaundice. After his illness is nearly cured, he visits Hanna with a bouquet of flowers to thank her.

When Michael wants to leave, Hannah asks him to wait because she has to go in the same direction and she would like his company. While she changes her clothes, Michael is secretly looking through a crack in the door. Hanna notices this and Michael runs away.

A week later, he visits her again. Hanna asks him to fetch coal from the basement and Michael gets really dirty. She gives him a bath. Afterwards, Hanna and Michael sleep together for the first time, and Michael falls in love with Hanna.

For both, it becomes a ritual and Michael skips the last class of school every day to wait for Hanna, who comes homes from work at 12 o’clock. Hanna asks Michael to read to her after they sleep together. She is an attentive listener. During the Easter holidays, Michael travels by train to Schwetzingen to be with Hanna. She works as a streetcar conductress. However, they get into a conflict and Michael blames himself because he feels like he offended Hanna. As they continue to celebrate the holidays together, they embark on a bike trip. One morning, Michael decides to get breakfast and writes Hanna a note. When he returns with breakfast, she is very angry because she didn’t see the note. Again, there is a conflict between them and Michael takes the blame.

When the holidays are over, Michael has a new class schedule and Michael spends a lot of time with his class at the public swimming pool. He is often with Hanna, too. Once again, Hanna and Michael have sex. Later, Michael sees Hanna at the swimming pool but does not go up to her. The next day, Hanna is suddenly moved out of her apartment and disappeared. Michael wonders if it was his fault or whether he has been betrayed by Hanna.

After years, Michael sees Hanna as part of his law studies in the courtroom again. She is accused of voluntarily going to the SS and working there as a guard in the concentration camps. It is revealed that she would have young girls read to her, and afterwards, they were selected for deportation. On a hike from Krakow to Auschwitz, these deported inmates slept in a church that burned down. All of the people died except a mother with her daughter because none of the guards would unlock the door. Hanna admits that she wrote a report at that time, even though she turns out later to be illiterate.

Michael goes to a concentration camp to try to understand Hanna’s situation back then and to condemn her work. When Michael discovers that Hanna is illiterate, he decides to go to the supreme judge and tell him. He manages to talk to the supreme judge, but not about Hanna’s illiteracy.

Hanna gets a life sentence and Michael becomes a law clerk and marries a woman named Gertrude. The married couple have a daughter named Julia. However, when Julia is five, Michael and Gertrude divorce.

Hanna has already been in prison for several years when Michael decides to send Hannah books on tape. Four years later, Michael gets the first response from Hanna; she is grateful for the records. Michael never writes to Hanna.

After Hanna has been in prison for 17 years, Michael gets a letter from the prison director. She writes that Hanna will likely be released in one year and asks him to take care of housing, employment, and some leisure programs for Hannah, and she requests Michael visit Hanna in prison. Michael takes care of a home and a job for Hanna; however, he does not visit her. A week before Hanna’s release, he visits her in prison and notices that “his” Hanna from past times is now an old woman. He also shows Hanna that he has no space for her in his life. On the day of her release, Hanna is found dead. She hung herself in the morning. With the director of the prison, Michael takes a look at Hanna’s cell and they find books about concentration camps and classical literature. Hanna has learned to read and write with the help of Michael’s tapes and books. She also has written a will, the money of her bank account with a total sum of 7,000 DM should be transferred to the mother and daughter from the concentration camp. This sends Michael to New York and they transfer the money to the Jewish League Against Illiteracy in Hanna’s name.

The organization thanks Hanna with a letter for the donation later. Michael takes the letter and visits Hanna’s grave to leave the letter.

German version

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4 thoughts on “Plot Summary

  1. savanna

    okay I’ve read everything here and I can’t find anything about a theme ? it’s really urgent, I procrastinated and now I regret it. please someone tell me the theme ??

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Savanna,
      I think the question on the reader theme isn’t easy to answer because the book deals with several themes:

      – Relationship with huge age gap
      – The “behavior” of the Nazis
      – Ethics in job (Hanna did the expected tasks in that time, but it was not okay anyway.)
      – Illiteracy
      – Helping criminals getting back to normal life
      – …

      If you summarize it, I would say the main theme of the reader is the question of guilt. Hanna helped doing really cruel things, but they were commonly accepted this time and when it comes to the report on the burning church, it is obvious that it could not be her who wrote it because of her illiteracy.

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