Guilt & Personality in “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink

Pages: 3
Words: 916


Guilt is a feeling that consumes a person and leads to consequences: personal destruction, alienation, and suffering. The problem of guilt rarely gets attention because it is one of the most challenging emotions. Bernhard Schlink reveals guilt issues in his novel The Reader, including such themes as Nazism, relationships at different ages, and illiteracy. Hannah Schmitz is the protagonist gnawed by guilt for her crimes: having sex with a minor and being a caretaker at Auschwitz. She is tormented by both crimes and feels differently about them. This duality is evident in the film adaptation by Stephen Daldry, who sees Hannah’s guilt differently. Hannah’s character is portrayed differently: her guilt for the Holocaust is expressed more in the book than in the film.

Comparison of Hannah Schmitz’s Character in the Novel and the Film Adaptation

Guilt for the Holocaust and having sex with a teenager are significant attributes of Hannah’s character. One might argue that there is more responsibility for the Holocaust than guilt for the molestation of minors, and this is best shown in the book. Another claim is that the film concentrates more on Hannah’s character and her thoughts on relationships than on the brutality at Auschwitz. The paper’s author believes that the film dispositions the Holocaust as part of the story. It focuses on Hannah’s emotions rather than on the horrors of war. The book reflects more on Hannah’s guilt for the crimes at Auschwitz than for her sexual relationship with a teenager.

Blame for Sexual Relationships

Hannah has become involved with a young boy, Michael: he is interested in her, and she gives in to her new feelings. Michael rates their relationship as passionate, but he doesn’t know the truth: “I know nothing about her love for me” (Schlink). Their meetings are pretty long: they take baths and read books, but Hannah remains aloof. The woman is quickly ready to punish the young man if he is not obedient or, on the contrary, shows too much interest. Hannah, in the book, is a stronghold of a woman who realizes her guilt about sexual intercourse. She sees Michael as a child she could have saved as she did during her service at Auschwitz. But she realized that she would not give him the good and the need. Hannah saw the boy with his classmates and then left for Hamburg and did not see him for a long time.

The relationship with Michael is not a sticking point in the book, but it is a story of first love and its power in the film. Daldry reveals Hannah as a striking, bright, demanding woman who is not without charm. She gives in to her feelings much more quickly, but Kate Winslet’s performance shows how the character regrets the connection. Hannah and Michael’s sexual relationship is sensual, and through it, the narrator grows and develops as a spiritual person. There is a lot of nudity in the film for a postwar drama, and Hannah’s body is used to sympathize with the tragic story of first love (Daldry). In the relationship, Hannah is self-pitying for her choice of a young boy, but she can’t help but give herself to them. It is probably the reason she feels alive.

Blame for the Holocaust

One might wonder if illiteracy is why supporters or anyone involved in the Holocaust cannot be judged. Obviously, the thought is repulsive because things like Nazism are crimes against humanity. It is a category of particularly grave crimes because Nazis act against man’s being because of anger and hatred. Schlink prefers to focus on the Holocaust as the novel’s centerpiece, trying to consider its implications from a new perspective.

Hannah is revealed as a strong woman who has illiteracy. At first, young Michael does not understand why Hannah is so aloof. He sees her as graceful and seductive, while the woman remains broken inside and unable to forgive herself. She makes Michael read essential books that condemn illiteracy. The reading of Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog is important because Anna’s story is similar to Hanna’s (Schlink). The woman blames herself for the Holocaust; she empathizes with the dead women and children in the church. She was devoted to having sex with the boy but did not view it entirely as a crime. Although she blames the connection, the nightmares and murders she experienced weigh much more heavily on her.

Hanna is presented differently in the film: the Holocaust seems forgotten because of ignorance. It seems that Hannah is not responsible for the war crime. Instead of reflecting on illiteracy, the film relies on the human person, arguing that concern for future generations is more important than the memory of the nightmares experienced. Hannah plays the role of Michael’s companion in his growth as a postwar man; through reading, she teaches him justice and reveals herself as an emotionally literate woman (Daldry). Daldry showed that Hannah was not responsible for the drama of the Jewish people because her illiteracy prevented her from realizing what she had done.


Thus, Hannah Schmitz is an interesting character in terms of psychology. She appears differently in the novel and the book, so she evokes different feelings. In the book, she is an overbearing woman who blames herself for the Holocaust and its effect on a teenager. In the movie, she feels guilty about the relationship much more than the war crimes. The film adaptation shows the story from a different perspective, and viewers see something new.

Works Cited

Daldry, Stephen, director. The Reader. The Weinstein Company, 2008.

Shlink, Bernhard. The Reader. Internet Archive. Web.