Thursday, February 25, 2010

Discussion Questions for The Reader

The Reader was our February Group Read. Vote for March's on the sidebar.


1. At what point does the signficance of the book's title become clear to you? Who is "The Reader"? Are there others n the story with an equally compelling claim to this role?

2. When does the difference in social class between Hanna and Michael become most clear and painful? Why does Hanna feel uncomfortable staying overnight in Michael's house? Is Hanna angry about her lack of education?

3. In a novel, so suffused with guilt, how is Michael guilty? Does his narrative serve as a way of putting himself on trial? What verdict does he reach? Is he asking readers to examine the evidence he presents and condemn him or exonerate him? Or has he already condemened himself?

4. Do you agree with Michael's judgment that Hanna was sympathetic with the prisoners she chose to read to her, and that she wanted their final month of life to be bearable? Or do you see Hanna in a darker light; do the testimonies out her cruelty and sadism ring true?

5. How does the novel leave you feeling and thinking? Is it hopeful or ultimately despairing? If you have read other Holocaust literature, how does The Reader compare?

PLEASE tell us what you think. Respond in the comments. I can't wait to hear what everyone has to say. Also, if you have any questions, post them in the comments, so we can respond back!


Becky said...

1) I think Michael is the reader - I realized that when Hanna would have him read to her in bed. She never would read herself, she always wanted him to do it. Then again later on when she was in prison and he started reading to her on tapes the full circle of the book hit me(especially the title).

2) I don't know that Hanna was angry about her lack of education, but she definitely was angry when Michael acted like education was no big deal.

4) I honestly didn't see a lot of emotion in Hanna throughout the novel. She never seemed to get attached to Michael, and during the trial all of the stories (when she was defending herself), she was saying "well what else should I have done," or asking the judge what he would do. I don't think she saw it as wrong or bad, because I don't know that she ever saw the women as human beings.

5) I thought as a Holocaust literature book this was very good. It's definitely harder to read than say The Diary of Anne Frank, but I think that's because I could relate to Anne on a oung girl level, and I couldn't relate to either Michael or Hanna. This was a hard novel to read but I would recommend it to others.

Leigh Hutchens Burch said...

I finally finished it!

1) Since I saw the movie before I read the book, the title was clear for me the whole way through. However, I see Hanna as "the reader" more than Michael. She wasn't the one orally reading the books, but she was soaking up the stories -- reading them.

2.) It became clear to me when she visited his house and touched everything in all the rooms. I don't think she is angry about her lack of education, but instead, I think she feels ashamed.

3.) I think Michael feels a certain guilt for not reaching out to Hanna at the pool when she came to see him, and then again when he talks to the judge and doesn't give up Hanna's secret of being illiterate. He is guilty of not writing to her or visiting her in prison, and feels guilt for that. I do believe he has already condemned himself, in a way, because of his struggle to tell the story. I wonder if he ever blamed Hanna - who took advantage of him at such a young age.

4.) I see her in a darker light -- as if she thought the reading would ease them a bit, but also enjoyed some power over the prisoners (and over Michael) that made her feel strong, important. Like the prisoners, Michael was sickly when they met. I wonder if she would have taken up with him the way she did if he had not been vomiting and ashen when he stumbled upon her.

5.) It's interesting to me in the way that all Holocaust lit is. It's sad, it's depressing, but it's still beautiful and ultimately about the power of the human spirit. I like meeting a character who is on the "bad guys" side, yet still has redeeming qualities. (Her donation to the surviving daughter.) It leaves me feeling depressed for Hanna, and a little sad for Michael, but terribly moved at the same time. I am okay with stories that end that way. :)

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

@ Amber..

1. Interesting thought. I hadn't even thought about that until you mentioned it, but you are so right.

2. I agree.

3. I agree.

4. Hadn't even thought of the connection between him being sickly and those prisoners. I think you can see Hanna in a negative light if you think that she took some perverse pleasure in having some control of the situation, when in other circumstances she would have been the vulnerable/dumber/less educated one.

Kelly said...

1. I guess I assumed Michael was the reader, but it could be Hanna too...or any of the other "readers" she had.

2. I think Hanna was not angry, but ashamed...

3. I think Michael does feel guilty, any time he upsets Hanna, when he doesn't acknowledge her at the pool, when he doesn't visit her in jail. I personally don't think he should feel guilty but I think it's like everyone- we all feel guilty for things that no one else would blame us for.

4. I don't know what to think about Hanna. As I was reading, I found myself disliking her during her relationship with Michael, but then during the trial I was really sympathetic and felt bad for her. I truly do not think that one person could've changed things during that time and I understand why they all felt that way. I'm not sure what her motivation was for picking certain people to read to her. I did make the connection between Michael being sick and young and the women. She definitely picked weak people, but I'm not sure why.

5. I really liked the book, but it didn't really feel hopeful to me. It was pretty depressing in the end. Particularly, I did not like the way that Michael's life turned out. I have to agree with Amber about being moved by the book though, despite it being depressing.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I kind of regret not re-reading this. It's been kind of a while since I've read it and the details are all so foggy for me...

I think I have liked every holocaust book I have read. They are not easy to read, but it's an important genre to read. I think it reminds us that it's kind of easy to go with the flow & follow what everyone else is doing. And using the fact that everyone is doing it as a scapegoat for yourself. At the same time, it's easy for us to look back in the past & say we never would have gone along but these books remind us that it was really hard to go against what everyone was doing...

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

@ Kelly..

Do you think her motivation could have been because she felt ashamed and inferior because of her illiteracy? So she made up by using the few powers she had?

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

@ Lisa.

Exactly. More and more reasons why to always promote to children to stand up for what they believe and not be swayed by what others want. Or maybe that is the Kindergarten teacher in me talking.

J said...

1. I think Michael is the reader but it didn't become clear to me until he started recording the cassettes for Hanna. Once I found out that hanna was illiterate then it made sense why she got so angry at Michael for brushing off his studies.

2. i found Hanna awkward. It didn't make sense to me until i found out she couldn't read. I guess she just thought she was less than Michael and his family because she couldn't read.

3. I don't think Michael is guilty. He didn't tell the judge that hanna couldn't read because he knew she didn't want to be exposed. Sometimes there is only so much you can do.

4. I think that Hanna was sympathetic to the prisoners but also selfish. She wanted them to read to her and also to make their life bearable for the finally days.

5. The novel left me feeling numb and overwhelmed. I have read other Holocaust novels but this one was different. Its hard to describe but I didn't like the ending and what happened to Hanna. I just didn't expect it at all.