Summary by Chapter

Summary by chapter of The Reader

The summary by chapter is always a great way of getting in touch with the whole novel The Reader or just for repeating the content without reading the book a second time. Here you will find a meaningful summary of each specific chapter of the novel, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink, which describes the main content of each chapter. With these short summaries, you will get a good, detailed, yet quick overview of the plot of The Reader, without having to read the entire book word for word.

Please use the links below to jump to the other parts or just scroll down…
Part Two
Part Three

First part of The Reader

Chapter 1: “I was fifteen, I got hepatitis.”

In the first chapter of the novel, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, Michael throws up on the way home. Hanna comes to his aid. She washes him and cleans the sidewalk with. When he begins to cry, she asks where he lives and brings him home. The doctor, who is there right away, diagnoses him with jaundice.

Chapter 2: “I had been aware of this building since I was a little boy. It dominated the whole row.”

Michael describes Hanna’s house in Bahnhofstrasse. He describes it as it is today, as it was when he was fifteen years old, as he looked at it whe he was a little boy and as he sees it in his dreams.

Chapter 3: “If I see her in my mind’s eye as she was then, she doesn’t have a face at all, and I have to reconstruct it.”

In the third chapter, Michael visits Hanna to thank her. She irons on the kitchen table when Michael tells of his illness. Michael describes the apartment Hanna is living in and what it looked like back then.

Chapter 4: “As she was reaching for the other stocking, she paused, turned towards the door, and looked straight at me.”
In the fourth chapter, Michael is still with Hanna. When he wants to go, she asks him to wait, because she also had to go and wanted to go with him. Michael is waiting in the hallway while Hanna is in the kitchen, the door is open a crack. Michael observes Hanna. When she recognises this, Michael runs out of the house and walks slowly home.

Chapter 5: “If looking at someone with desire was as bad as satisfying the desire, if having an active fantasy was as bad as the act you were fantasizing—then why not the satisfaction and the act itself?”

In the fifth chapter, Michael thinks about visiting Hanna again. Previously, he thought a long time about whether he should do so, but finally, he comes to the conclusion that it would be more dangerous if he did not go to Hanna, because then he would not get rid his fantasies.

Chapter 6: “Then she let the towel fall to the floor. I didn’t dare move. She came so close to me that I could feel her breasts against my back and her stomach against my behind.”

In the sixth chapter, Michael visits Hanna, but she is not at home. Michael is waiting on the stairs in front of Hanna’s apartment until she finally comes home. He recognizes by her clothes that Hanna is a streetcar conductor. In her hand, she holds a coke chute (a container for charcoal) and sends Michael to the basement to get two more. Michael gets really dirty when handling the charcoal in the basement. Hanna and he are laughting together, she makes Michael a bath. When he is in the tub, she cleans his clothes. Hanna holds a towel to dry Michael. He realizes that Hanna is naked when she drops the towel. Then they sleep with each other.

Chapter 7: “The next night I fell in love with her. I could barely sleep, I was yearning for her, I dreamed of her, thought I could feel her until I realized that I was clutching the pillow or the blanket. My mouth hurt from kissing.”

In the seventh chapter,Michael decides to go back to school, even though he would have to stay for three weeks more at home because of his illness. He describes a scene from his childhood, when his mother washed him. He also describes the relationship from his father to his family.

Chapter 8: “She got out of bed, stood naked in the kitchen being a conductor.”

Michael tells Hanna that he skips the last lesson in school every day to meet her. Hanna gets upset about this fact, and they argue for the first time. She sends him home because she does not want to be guilty of Michael failing in school and make him end up being illiterate and a streetcar conductor like her.

Chapter 9: “But to be seen with Hanna, who was ten years younger than my mother but could have been my mother, didn’t bother me. It made me proud.”

In the 9th chapter of the book, The Reader, written by Bernhard Schlink, Michael works hard in class because he had missed some topics in school because of his illness. He faces many questions about marriage and happiness, and wonders whether both can last forever. He takes a look at himself and remembers the happy time when he was a young boy with too long arms and legs. He also said that he was neither good nor bad in school. Michael goes on to explain Hanna, who lived out of the situation and tells a little of their own past. Hanna lives the moment. It was the same with the future. Michael also says that he does not like be out together with his mother. When he goes with Hanna, who is only about 10 years younger and could also be his mother, he was even proud of it. With Hanna by his side, Michael feels like an adult. When Michael looks back to this time, he would see 15 years old as a child.
He reads many stories to Hanna, then they sleep together and shower. This is the typical procedure of their meetings. Hanna really loves it when Michael reads to her. She is an attentive listener, who responds in the appropriate places. Both enjoyed their time together.

Chapter 10: “If she threatened, I instantly and unconditionally surrendered. I took all the blame. I admitted mistakes I hadn’t made, intentions I’d never had. Whenever she turned cold and hard, I begged her to be good to me again, to forgive me and love me.”

On the first day of spring break, Michael gets up extra early and enters the train in which Hanna works as railway conductress. He knows what her stints are and on which routes she goes. Michael enters the second wagon and waits for Hanna come over to him. She is in the first wagon and talks to the driver.
Hanna does not come over to him. After several stations of waiting, Michael finally gets out sadly. Michael goes the way back home and thinks about Hanna’s behavior. He reappears at Hanna’s flat at the usual time and wants to ask her why she ignored him in the tram. She tells him to go away because she feels aggravated by him. Michael goes home really sad but visits Hanna after a half an hour again, because he could not stand the feeling. He asks her if she can forgive him. Hanna agrees. Then they sleep together. Every time the two have a conflict, Michael degrades into an excuse and admits things he has never done.

Chapter 11: “She kept looking at my split lip, until it healed, and stroking it gently. We made love a different way.”

In chapter 11 of the book, The Reader, written by Bernhard Schlink, Hanna and Michael decide to do a bike ride in the week after Easter. Michael says that he does not know what he has told his parents just before he drove away with Hanna. Michael wants to pay for Hanna, but does not have enough pocket money, although he had spent nothing during his illness. So he sold his stamp collection for seventy marks. Although he feels cheated, he says nothing. Hanna and Michael are both excited. He tells of the beautiful drive along the forests of the Rhine valley, they have looked at the landscape and are talking a lot. On the first night, the two cuddle together and Michael thinks about spending every night like this one with her. But the next nights, they sleep deeply because the ride is exhausting. Hanna allows Michael to determine the route; for her, it is sometimes nice to have not the responsibility. One morning. Michael wants to surprise Hanna with breakfast and flowers. He wrote her a little note that he will come back soon.
Hanna is very angry when he returns. She beats him up with her belt until his lips are bloody and breaks down in tears. Michael searches for the note but he cannot find it. Hanna says she would like to believe him, but she did not see any note. Afterwards, he reads it again to her and liked seeing a different side of Hanna. Not only the strong, but the gentle.

Chapter 12: “Her eyes explored everything—the Biedermeier furniture, the piano, the old grandfather clock, the pictures, the bookcases, the plates and cutlery on the table.”

In the last week of the holidays, Michael’s parents and his two older siblings go away. His younger sister should stay at friends‘, she thinks it is unfair that Michael should stay alone at home. Therefore, Michael asked her what she would like to have that he can stay alone at home. She tells him a few things that she wants. Michael decides to steal these things because he has no money. The plan almost works, only, at the last object, he is seen by the store detective and escapes in the last moment.
The first night at home alone, he invites Hanna. She takes a look to the house where Michael lives with his parents. She goes through all rooms and is especially interested in his father’s books. Hanna asks him if his father wrote the books himself or if he has just read them. Michael reads to her again and Hanna wants to know if Michael even wants to write books later. Michael is not sure. Then both eat together and they go to Hanna’s apartment. Michael gives her a nightgown made of silk, which he had stolen. Hanna puts on the nightgown and dances in front of the mirror with it. For Michael, this is one of the key images of Hanna in his mind.

Chapter 13: “Nausicaa, white-armed and virginal, who in body and features re- sembled the immortals—should I imagine her as Hanna or as Sophie?”

In the 13th chapter of the book, The Reader, written by Bernhard Schlink, Michael starts a new school year and for him, it is the change from the lower to the upper fifth. Michael describes his school and reported that this school has previously included only boys but now girls can also visit this school. He also tells about his class. Beside him sits Sophie, a very beautiful girl. Michael feels good, but he feels either totally safe or extremely unsafe. If he felt sure, he mastered difficult situations. He also describes the view out of the window. He says that he has always loved The Odyssey. In the end, Michael asks if he should imagine Hanna or Sophie as a character in the story. He could not decide.

Chapter 14: “When I think of horses, I don’t think horse’s teeth or horse face or whatever it is that worries you, I think of something good, warm, soft, strong. You’re not a bunny or a kitten, and whatever there is in a tiger—that evil something— that’s not you either.”

Michael compares the love between Hanna and him with a sliding plane. Their ritual of reading aloud, of loving and taking a shower together is still alive. One evening, when Michael reads from a book that both do not know, Hanna asks Michael what pet names he has for her. He waits a second and then he says that he thinks of a horse, if he keeps Hanna in his arms. Hanna is neither pleased nor repellent. Michael is a little suspicious because usually, Hanna is always for or against something. He calls her other nicknames. After a moment of silence, she says that she likes to be called horse. She asks him to explain the different names.

Together, the two visit a theatre play. For Michael, the opinion of the other viewers did not matter when he put his hand around Hanna’s waist. In the afternoon, Michael often meets with his school friends in the swimming pool to do homework. He is sometimes too late, but the others does not bother because it makes him more interesting. On his birthday, he is back with Hanna. She is in a bad mood and knows nothing of his birthday. Michael would have rather been in the swimming pool at this point. He also apologized again, even though he had done nothing and this time, he was very angry.

Chapter 15: “From the outside, it is impossible to tell if you are disowning someone or simply exercising discretion, being considerate, avoiding embarrassments and sources of irritation.”

The 15th chapter of the book, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink is about Michael and his friends, especially his school friend, Sophie. Michael had told his friends nothing about Hanna. On the way back from the pool, Sophie and Michael get into a thunderstorm. Together, they take cover and start talking. Sophie is interested in whether he is depressed by his illness. Michael explains that he is healthy again. He is not sure whether he should tell her about Hanna. He staves off Sophie and proposes to talk about it at another time. It never happened.

Chapter 16: “I never found out what Hanna did when she wasn’t working and we weren’t together.”

Michael says he has never met Hanna randomly somewhere and that they talk a lot about movies they saw both in cinema. Hanna was under emotional pressure for while and he did not know why. After Hanna seemed to be normal again, they bathed together. When Michael went into the swimming pool, he felt dizzy. By the time everything was clear again and it was just a normal afternoon,  Hanna suddenly appeared in the swimming pool. He had never seen her randomly somewhere and wondered what she was doing in the pool. When he got up to go to her, he looked away briefly. At this moment, Hanna left the pool. He writes that this is a picture that he has in his memory.

Chapter 17: “Next day she was gone.”

Michael wants to visit Hanna and sits on the stairs outside her apartment, waiting for her. When she does not appear after a while, he calls the streetcar and mountain railway company and hears that Hanna has cancelled as they offered her a training to become a streetcar driver. The carpenter in the yard tells Michael that Hanna moved out the same day.


Second Part of the Book

Chapter 1: “After Hanna left the city, it took a while before I stopped watching for her everywhere, before I got used to the fact that afternoons had lost their shape, and before I could look at books and open them without asking myself whether they were suitable for reading aloud.”

After Hanna’s disappearance, Michael misses her very much. He even developed feelings of guilt, but after some time, he forgets Hanna. Meanwhile, school and university are easy for him, but Sophie gets tuberculosis. He describes his own behavior as a cocky, with some parts of arrogance in it. Sophie notices this when she is healthy again after some years.

Chapter 2: “When I saw Hanna again, it was in a courtroom.”

During his studies, Michael attends a court case for sentencing concentration camp guards. He sees Hanna again, as a defendant, and reports of how much devotion he and the other students have to analyzing the process. It seems to please him to work up the past.

Chapter 3: “Our group was the fourth, and so would witness the examination of the defendants at the actual start of proceedings.”

At the beginning of the chapter, Michael describes the architectural style of the courthouse and he feels a positive mood again because he can finally apply what he has learned. In the process, we learn that Hanna had previously worked at Siemens and is then changed to the SS. She also worked in two different camps and moved several times thereafter. Michael is frightened of himself when he thinks that he would like to see Hanna arrested, so she is just out of his life.

Chapter 4: “During the weeks of the trial, I felt nothing: my feelings were numbed.”

As a reader, you can clearly see that the distance between Hanna and Michael becomes even greater during the process. Michael looks at Hanna as if he had never had a relationship with her. Nevertheless, he takes part in all hearings and his professor welcomes his voluntary commitment, because he can tell the other students who experience only parts of process the missing parts.

Chapter 5: “Of course the five defendants had not been in charge of the camp.”

In this short chapter, Michael begins to think about whether and how someone who has worked in Auschwitz could be condemned. In addition, the charges are mentioned briefly and the court makes a trip to Israel to interview a witness without Michael.

Chapter 6: “After the indictment had been read out, she spoke up to say that something was incorrect; the presiding judge rebuked her irritably, telling her that she had had plenty of time before the trial to study the charges and register objections;”

Chapter 6 of The Reader, written by Bernhard Schlink, shows the reader in the court process that Hanna is illiterate. She notes that some things that are written in the log of her examination are not true, even though she has signed it. She also reacts a little strange when she learns that a witness report is not read, because everyone has received it in writing. In summary, you can say the process is designed to her disadvantage. At first, she contradicts and she is excited, but the longer the process takes, the more Hanna takes up the guilt of the other.

Chapter 7: “In fact, the evidence itself was favorable to the defendants.”

Hanna develops a great deal of honesty in the further course of the process and she also declares things she has been committed. This, in turn, annoys the other defendants and their defenders because the court actually had no concrete evidence without the testimony of Hanna. Otherwise, it would be easy to dismiss the guilt of all. The other defenders are taking advantage of Hanna’s honesty and put all the blame on her. You will learn in this chapter, too, that Hanna had inmates in the camps who had read to her. This clarifies her illiteracy again.

Chapter 8: “In one camp, the daughter had known a guard who was called “Mare,” also young, beautiful, and diligent, but cruel and uncontrolled.”

Michael describes the contents of the book of the surviving daughter. It describes the situation of the concentration camp and tells how each month, sixty women were selected and sent to Auschwitz. The daughter also describes how she survived the fire with her mother in the church on a small gallery.

Chapter 9: “Why did you not unlock the doors?”

The judge asked the defendants consecutively why they did not unlocked the door of the burning church. Each of them said that it was not possible and that this report is wrong. However, Hanna explains that they had all wrote the report together. When another defendant rejects this and the judge asks Hanna for her handwriting, Hanna admits that she has written the report.

Chapter 10: “Hanna could neither read nor write.”

When considering Hanna’s behavior, Michael recognizes that Hanna cannot read and write during a walk in the woods. This explains many of Hanna’s strange behaviors in the past, such as the dispute during the bike ride, and her job as a camp guard and the situation when she pretends to be the sole author of the report. Michael now makes allegations to himself that he loved a criminal.

Chapter 11: “She had seized command. She did the talking and the writing. She had made the decisions.”

The other defendants have an easy game to push all the blame on Hanna and refer to her as “leader”. Hanna tries to escape from this situation by arguing, but this is hopeless. Michael wonders if he should go to the presiding judge to tell him that Hanna is illiterate.

Chapter 12: “No, your problem has no appealing solution.”

Michael cannot decide whether he should talk to the judge presiding over Hanna or even to Hanna herself. He seeks advice from his father. His father shows him with philosophical parables that he should speak with Hanna and the presiding judge. In spite of counsel, Michael is still undecided and unsure.

Chapter 13: “Again and again, my thoughts wandered off and were lost in images.”

Michael goes to the lectures at the university he has missed during the time of Hanna’s process. The court travels to Israel to hear a witness. He always has dreams day and night that show situations of the life of him with Hanna or Hanna alone. He also wonders how little information was there on concentration camps when he went to school.

Chapter 14: “But executioners don’t hate the people they execute, and they execute them all the same.”

Michael decides to visit a concentration camp. Because he has no visa for the one at Auschwitz, he goes hitchhiking to the next concentration camp, “Struthof”, in Alsace. On the way, he meets different people, and with one of the drivers, he leads a debate. The man defends the people who executed Jews and other people in the concentration camps. He is of the opinion that they have only done their work, and the Jews were indifferent to the people. After a provocative question, Michael has to leave the car and went the rest of the way on foot.

Chapter 15: “I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it.”

For the second time now, Michael visited the concentration camp in Alsace. Now it is winter and he remembers how he tried to imagine the barracks of the camp full of people at his first visit. Afterwards, he goes into a restaurant and he has a bad night. Michael is very upset and cannot decide whether he wants to understand or condemn Hanna’s crime. The next day, he goes hitchhiking back home.

Chapter 16: “I had to make sure justice was done, despite Hanna’s lifelong lie, justice both for and against Hanna, so to speak. But I wasn’t really concerned with justice. I couldn’t leave Hanna the way she was, or wanted to be.”

Michael goes to the judge to tell him that Hanna is illiterate. It is not just about justice for Hanna. She has deceived and abandoned him. He does not want to accept her decision. The judge knows the seminar group well and welcomes Michael. He tells him that he can come back at any time.

Chapter 17: “But she looked straight ahead and through everything. A proud, wounded, lost, and infinitely tired look. A look that wished to see nothing and no one.”

Hanna’s judgment is read. She gets a life sentence. The spectators are really excited at the trial, because Hanna wears a costume that looks like the uniform of the SS. She listens to her judgment without moving and leaves the courtroom without looking at anyone.


Third Part of Schlink’s The Reader

Chapter 1: “Knowing what was going on did not mean taking part”

After the trial, Michael pulls back and learned a lot. Nevertheless, he is asked if he would like to go skiing with other students. He agrees. On this vacation, he is sick. Afterwards, he completed his studies and becomes a trainee.

Chapter 2: “When Gertrude and I were open and warm with each other, Julia swam in it like a fish in water.”

During the ski vacation Michael meets Gertrude. He marries her later. The two have a daughter, whom they call Julia. They divorce when Julia is five years old. After the marriage to Gertrude, Michael never builds a long lasting relationship again.

Chapter 3: “The streetcar stopped, the door opened, and I got on.”

The professor of the concentration camp seminar dies. Michael does not want to go to the funeral at first, but then he does. At the cemetery, he talks to a former seminar participant. When he asks about Hanna, Michael tries to change the subject. At the end of the funeral, the other seminar participant asked again, and Michael runs away and jumps on the streetcar.

Chapter 4: “I escaped and was relieved that I could do so.”

Michael is struggling with the choice of his job. He wants to become neither judge nor defense lawyer, and finally, he takes a job as a legal historian. He is reading The Odyssey again, which he loved as a child.

Chapter 5: “When I read it aloud, I could tell if the feeling was right or not.”

Michael begins to record books on cassette and he sends them to Hanna in prison. Later, he also writes stories himself, which he records on tape to send to Hanna. He never talks about anything personal in the record, only the text and the author.

Chapter 6: “Kid, the last story was especially nice. Thank you. Hanna.”

After four years of contact by tapes with Hanna, Michael gets the first letter from her. She thanks him for the many cassettes she received from him. Hanna learned to write and she now writes Michael letters. She comments very carefully on literature. She recognizes epochs, older literature of recent or what the authors moved, possibly a woman, or that Goethe’s poems are like little pictures. Michael also admires Hanna’s courage she has had to learn to read and write. He collects all their letters and also observed the development of her writing. From her initial child-like writing, the letters are now always neat and beautiful. Yet, he never writes her. The cassettes are his way of talking to Hanna.

Chapter 7: “I never thought about the fact that Hanna would be released one day.”

… But then, Michael gets a letter from the prison. They write him because Hanna may get a parole board hearing next year and could be released after 18 years in prison. The head of the prison asks him to take care of Hanna. He is looking for a flat for her and even finds a job at a tailor for Hanna. The request to visit Hanna in prison is not satisfied, because Michael pushes against it. Then he gets a call from the prison: “In a week, Hanna is released.”

Chapter 8: “But why should I have given her a place in my life?”

It’s Sunday and Michael visits Hanna in prison. They sit in the prison garden on a bench. Hanna has gray hair and wrinkles. She is wearing a light blue dress when they sit next to each other and Michael remembers Hanna’s fragrance. How she smelled as she worked, when they slept together, when she did the laundry, or the smell of her sweat. He also remembers what she looked like at the time before prison, but now he smells and looks at an old woman. Michael tells her how he admires her that she has learned to read and write, and thanks her for the letters. He tells her about his divorce and his daughter. Also, they talk about the time before and why Hanna never told him anything about her past. In her opinion, no one would understand her past. Michael gets the feeling that everything seems wrong.

Chapter 9: “Think about what we should do tomorrow.”

It is the day before Hanna’s discharge. Michael calls the jail to speak to Hanna. He asks her what they should do tomorrow. Michael is very nervous this week and is not able to concentrate. However, it is a strange feeling for him. Michael wonders if he had to demand accountability from Hanna, too.

Chapter 10: “Tears were filling my chest and throat, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak.”

By the next morning, Hanna is dead. She hanged herself at daybreak. Michael goes to the jail and talk to the manager. She asks Michael if he suspected something and he says no. The manager shows him Hanna’s cell, where she has lived the past 18 years. The cell is still equipped and Michael takes a look at her books, some about concentration camps and women in concentration camps. On the walls are little notes. There are quotations, poems, small messages, recipes, or images from newspapers. An image of Michael as a high school graduate is also included. Also, Michael finds the tapes he sent her. The director tells him that Hanna learned to read with these tapes. First, she read word by word and sentence by sentence during the tape playing. There is also a last will and testament. The 7,000 DM from her bank account should be send to the mother with the daughter who survived the fire in the church. Michael discovers that Hanna has lived there for many years like a volunteer at the monastery. All this makes Michael sad and he often starts to cry. But when he sees Hanna’s dead body, he cries no more tears.

Chapter 11: “It was autumn before I could carry out Hanna’s instructions. The daughter lived in New York, and I used a meeting in Boston as the occasion to bring her the money.”

Michael travels to New York to complete the order of Hanna’s testament. The daughter invites him for tea and he tells her about Hanna’s death and the job. Michael tells her about their relationship and that he was Hanna’s reader and even by the tapes, too. The daughter agrees with him that they transfer the money by Hanna’s name to a Jewish institution for the illiterate.

Chapter 12: “With the letter in my pocket, I drove to the cemetery, to Hanna’s grave. It was the first and only time I stood there.”

10 years have passed since Hanna’s death. Michael has asked himself many questions. He wonders if he was responsible for Hanna’s death. He is even angry with her. But then he starts to write the story down to get rid of it and to make peace with Hanna. He also transfers the money to the “Jewish League Against Illiteracy”. They thank Hanna for the donation with a letter. Michael takes the letter and goes to Hanna’s grave. “It was the first and only time I stood there.”

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