Style - Richardmajor

The Reader
By Bernhard Schlink
Stylistic Features
& Language Techniques
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Schlink's use of a first person narrative
throughout the novel lends a credibility necessary
to this type of fictional personal account. The first
half of the story deals only with a young Michael
and allows the reader to watch his transition into
The language Schlink uses to describe Michael's
recollections of the first time he saw Hanna's
naked body beautifully capture his naiveté. The
scene in which Michael loses his virginity to Hanna
is written so eloquently, it's as if the author is
recalling his own life.
The Gazette: 2000
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Michael's narration of the story, which is very
interior in its focus, creates a very contemplative
and introspective mood.
Schlink creates this through the use of an interior
monologue full of questions that both the narrator
and the reader want to answer.
In the second half of the novel the romantic tone
of the story changes to a much heavier one, as
Michael attends a criminal trial seminar only to
find Hanna is the woman accused of terrible war
Schlink brilliantly writes a heavy subject matter in
a lighter tone while maintaining respectability.
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Schlink uses both an unsentimental tone of the
detective novels he had previously written and a
more reflective, sometimes poetic, approach more
consistent with the weighty material.
The former is exemplified by the bluntness of
chapter openings at key turns in the plot, like "Next
morning, Hanna was dead."
The latter comes into play in passages like "It was
one of the pictures of Hanna that has stayed with me.
I have them stored away, I can project them on a
mental screen and watch them, unchanged,
He also deftly uses chiasmus at times to accentuate
Michael's confusion.
Wikipedia: 2006
Technique: Chiasmus
chiasmus ‘kee AZZ muss’ (Figure of
Speech) the criss-cross figure
Greek for the letter “X”. The chiasmus contains
two groups of words that mirror each other. “You can
take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country
out of the boy.”
There was a belief that figures like the chiasmus
triggered our instinctive love of expressive
rhythm. It worked for John F. Kennedy; when he
told young people, “Ask not what your country can do for
you, ask what you can do for your country”, thousands of
them joined the Peace Corps.
From the novel: "I didn't reveal anything I should have
kept to myself. I kept to myself something I should have revealed”.
The setting
Important as the novel is set in post
WWII Germany.
Novel tackles the problems of forgiveness
and guilt and the denial of truth in the
wake of the holocaust
Schlink asks the question: is it possible to
rationalise the actions of those who were active
participants in the holocaust, without lessening the
horrific nature of the holocaust, and demeaning
those who suffered and died?
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Guilt and the German generation gap
Schlink explores the Holocaust from an
historical distance and has as a central
character a perpetrator instead of a victim.
Schlink's central idea is how his generation,
and indeed all generations after the Third
Reich, have struggled to come to terms with
the crimes of the Nazis ("the past which brands us
and with which we must live"). This is played out
through the trial and the questions that
Michael asks.
Wikipedia: 2006
Technique: Microcosm and Macrocosm
Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient
Greek schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all
levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or
universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale
(microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level).
(<> accessed 01/06/09)
Hanna and Michael's illegal relationship enacts, in microcosm,
the relationship of older and younger Germans in the postwar
years. "My love for Hanna was, in a way, the fate of my
generation, a German fate," Michael concludes.
Implying that there was a love for the older generation that
sometimes caused guilt to the younger members of society
because of the older generations’ involvement in the war.
This is enhanced when Michael hitchhikes to the concentration
camp site to get what he hopes will be some first-hand
knowledge. The driver, an older man offers an explanation for
people’s actions.
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Illiteracy as a symbol
Hanna’s illiteracy becomes a metaphor for modern
understanding of the Holocaust. We see everything from a
distance (2nd hand)
Hanna, once she attains literacy and understands the
situation more fully than we can, cannot live with herself
Hanna is too ashamed to admit she is illiterate and allows
the blame to be pinned upon her.
Hanna picks one prisoner to read to her, like Michael would
later on, only to send that girl to the gas chamber. Did she
do it to make the last months of one almost certain to die a
little more bearable? Or to keep her secret safe? Michael's
inability to both condemn and understand springs from this.
Wikipedia: 2006
Stylistic Features & Language Techniques
Schlink therefore asks through Michael:
“What should our second generation have done, what
should it do with the knowledge of the horrors of the
extermination of the Jews? We should not believe we
can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not
compare the incomparable, we may not inquire
because to make the horrors an object of inquiry is to
make the horrors an object of discussion, even if the
horrors themselves are not questioned, instead of
accepting them as something in the face of which we
can only fall silent in revulsion, shame and guilt.
Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame and
guilt? To what purpose?”
Genre: Bildungsroman
German term signifying "novel of formation" or "novel of
education." The subject of this novel is the development of
the protagonist's mind and character, in the passage from
childhood through varied experiences and often through a
spiritual crisis into maturity, which usually involves
recognition of one's identity and role in the world (Abrams).
Schlink employs this genre to explore h the “coming of
age” of the narrator, Michael Berg and how it affects his
relationship with broader German society at this time.
Most German readers would have an understanding of the
Bildungsroman genre. Michael’s personal journey and
formation is similar to that of others in his generation as
they come to terms with the Nazi legacy.
Other famous examples of this genre from the Western
canon are Great Expectations, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher
in the Rye and Jane Eyre.