The Reader. Close Study Chapters 1-7. PLOT. Schlink tells Michael’s story from when he was fifteen but interjects with the adult Michael’s reflections on life changing events. The narrative voice is first person, privileging Michael’s point of view.
Michael’s experiences are presented to us as memories reinforced particularly through smell, a powerful link to memory (‘it smelled of cleaning fluid…smell of cabbage…smelled the smell of wood” p. 9). Also, sight is mobilised (‘I couldn’t take my eyes off her.’ p.12).
Past and present, dreams and reality are merged in Michael’s story. He recounts that later in his life after the events of the novel, he has a recurring dream of the house in which his love affair with Hanna takes place. His dreams lead him to a door knob he cannot turn. We see him as stuck on the edge of an emotional precipice. His relationship with Hanna stultifies him emotionally.
Michael’s innocence and moral code are presented to us. Later in life he reflects on his liaison with Hanna as intrinsically immoral (‘I couldn’t stop thinking sinful thoughts… Love and guilt become inextricable to him. He reflects on the disconnection between thought and action (‘…today I can recognise that events back then were part of a lifelong pattern in which thinking and doing have either come together or failed to come together…’ p.18). This foreshadows moral dilemmas to come later in the novel.
‘Thinking’ Michael is juxtaposed against ‘doing’ Hanna. From the outset he is reflective. He has a sense that the relationship with Hanna is momentous in that it signals the end of youthful innocence when he deceives his parents into allowing him to return to school as he sees this is the only way to keep the relationship going with Hanna (‘I was happy. And at the same time I felt I’d just said my final goodbyes.’ p. 29)
Hanna is presented to us initially as a saviour, this will prove to be another central irony. Foreshadowing is present, however, in Michael’s description of Hanna coming to his aid in the street (‘When rescue came, it was almost an assault.’ p. 2)
As readers, we are positioned to see Hanna as humane. We will be implicated in judging her past actions later. Schlink’s purposeful description of Hanna’s unconditional kindness from the first page becomes critical to our understanding of the moral dilemmas presented later in the novel.
Michael has a recurring dream about this building, seeing it in his dreams in many locations. It can signify the collective dream of Germany’s former glory – one of the driving forces behind Germany’s involvement in World War 2.