The theme of war guilt in Bernard Schlink’s, “The Reader” Sample Essay

One of the chief thoughts in The Reader is German war guilt – guilt felt by both the war-time coevals and the post-war coevals. The post-war coevals. to which the writer. Schlink. belongs. has struggled to come to footings with the war offenses committed by the old coevals. The fresh Begins with a ill Michael being comforted by the maternal Hanna. This is an obvious symbol for the thought that the post-war coevals demands to face the workss of its predecessor before it can be free of a sense of corporate guilt. The novel is clearly an fable for the corporate guilt of ordinary Germans.

Guilt is portrayed in the novel by a sense of numbness and isolation. Michael. along with the others at the test. is numbed by the immoralities committed in his country’s name. This numbness is a symbol of the manner ordinary Germans try to distance themselves from the ‘monsters’ who could perpetrate such Acts of the Apostless. After the test. Michael suffers a febrility and so is free of his numbness ; this shows that facing the yesteryear ( as the test did ) is healthy for Germany.

A byproduct of guilt is blasted. and happening person to fault is a manner of decreasing the hurting of guilt. Hanna’s offenses and the resulting test expose the function of ordinary Germans in the Holocaust. Hanna deals with her guilt – she was portion of a group of guards who refused to unlock a combustion church. doing the deceases of many captives – by faulting her orders: “we had to guard them and non allow them get away. ” Many war-time Germans blamed orders. politicians. rabble outlook and ignorance. Similarly. Michael’s coevals blame their parents to get away any guilt: “We all condemned our parents to dishonor. even if the lone charge we could convey was that after 1945 they had tolerated the culprits in their thick. ” Schlink evidently feels that those involved with the war have to confront their complicity in the Holocaust before they can travel on as a state. Similarly. the post-war coevals have to gain that the German society that gives them such a comfy life is made up of ordinary people capable of existent immorality if the fortunes are right. Condemning their parents as monsters is non helpful – it’s dishonest. Michael finally sees this as holier-than-thou and foolish: “How could one experience guilt and shame and at the same clip parade one’s self-righteousness? ” Michael feels that his coevals should non merely confront the workss of their parents but besides confront the jobs in German society.

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Hanna’s offense comes approximately because of her fatal defect – conformance. She has grown up in a society that views attachment to social norms as indispensable. During the test Hanna readily admits her function in the deceases of the captives – due to her illiteracy. she admits much more than she should hold – but she doesn’t seem to experience any existent compunction. It is merely subsequently that she admits her offenses and suffers from guilt. She says the dead can name her to account: “Here in prison they were with me a batch. They came every dark. whether I wanted them or non. Before the test I could still trail them away when they wanted to come. ” Hanna is humanised by her research into the Holocaust. her admittance of guilt and her agony. but she is non absolved by them.

The novel seems to be stating that Germans need to confront the offenses of their state before they can be free of guilt. Michael chooses a calling in jurisprudence which will coerce him to cope with moral issues at a degree that really affects people. Possibly he wants to understand where Germany went incorrect and seek to alter society where he can. It’s of import that the subsister Michael tracks down in New York refuses to give Hanna absolution. Germany can ne’er be absolved of the offenses of the Holocaust but it can seek out the grounds for its guilt and attempt to do the alterations that guarantee the conditions for immorality are ne’er once more put in topographic point.

At the very terminal of the novel Michael visits Hanna’s grave: “It was the first and lone clip I stood at that place. ” This is a symbol of what post-war Germany can one twenty-four hours accomplish – once they candidly confront their yesteryear. they can travel on.

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