Talk:The Reader

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Publishing dates[edit]

The article originally stated that The Reader was "first published in the USA in 1995." This can't be right, because (a) the book first came out in Germany, (b) the copyright page of the Vintage (English language) version, the book is copyright 1995 by a German publisher, and copyright 1997 by the German-to-English translator, Carol Brown Janeway. If this information is incomplete or misleading, by all means change it. --zenohockey 22:27, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

It appears to have been changed.

I am going to be working on this article actively in the next couple of weeks (I hope). There is a lot in the German article that might be worth it to translate and put in here (although it is, so far, very heavy on the psychology ... I thought I'd never see Verdrängung outside of Freud). But we have a picture so far and they don't! So there! Daniel Case 07:24, 12 December 2005 (UTC)


The article includes the statement that vorlesen has just one meaning: to read aloud. There is another meaning in the context of e.g. a university, where it can mean "to lecture" or at least bears this connotation, hence 'Die Vorlesung' - 'the lecture'. Whether this is actually relevant to the analysis of the book I leave others to judge. For me, 'Der Vorleser', along with 'Austerlitz' (W. G. Sebald) and 'Jacob the Liar' (Jurek Becker), is one of the most thoughtful German novels on the subject of the Holocaust. The translators of 'Der Vorleser' and 'Austerlitz' also did an outstanding job (I can't comment on the translation of Jakob der Lügner'). --TraceyR 22:06, 14 July 2007 (UTC)

Film: Juliette Binoche[edit]

There's no source for Juliette Binoche's having been slated to play Hanna. I can't find any, apart from the IMDb message board for the film, which isn't really citable. --zenohockey 23:41, 8 September 2007 (UTC)


The article says that Michael's illness in the start of the book is hepatitis. It's jaundice, surely? 'Gelbsucht'? --clashcitizens 17:47, 26 September 2007

In the English version it says "hepatitis;" it's the first line of the novel.[1] María (críticame) 16:51, 27 September 2007 (UTC)
Jaundice is a common symptom of hepatitis. Daniel Case 17:11, 27 September 2007 (UTC)
That's right, I forgot about that! I wonder if that's what the German is referring to. María (críticame) 18:17, 27 September 2007 (UTC)
"Gelb" means yellow, so without looking at my German dictionary, or the German wiktionary, yes, I think. Daniel Case 18:56, 27 September 2007 (UTC)
I meant that I was wondering whether the original German started with something similar to "I had jaundice" or "I had jaundice caused by hepatitis" or what-have-you. Does the German even mention hepatitis? That's what I was wondering. María (críticame) 18:59, 27 September 2007 (UTC)
The German book starts with the sentence Als ich fünfzehn war, hatte ich Gelbsucht. (When I was fiftheen I had jaundice.) -- (talk) 00:17, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

True story?[edit]

I wonder if this novel is based on a true story, or even the author's autobiography. Is there any clue on this? sentausa (talk) 08:02, 4 March 2008 (UTC)

I suppose that's a testament to Schlink's skill. No one has ever said this is anything but fiction. Daniel Case (talk) 16:55, 4 March 2008 (UTC)
Well, it is semi-autobiographical in that the author shares similarities with the narrator; they are both children of WWII and have legal backgrounds. I've never heard that the events in the book are based on a true story, however, so I suspect the aforementioned similarities are why his article states that the novel is "partly autobiographical". María (habla conmigo) 17:18, 4 March 2008 (UTC)
The question of whether it's an autobiography or fiction was asked during the Oprah Show. "Though Bernhard admits that The Reader does contain some autobiographical elements, it is not an autobiography. When asked if he had a real-life Hanna in his own past, Bernhard says, 'I am from the Old World and have an old-fashioned sense of privacy.'" You can make your own judgement whether that's a yes or no reply. (talk) 05:34, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
Alright, thanks. I think we can use that. Daniel Case (talk) 13:25, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
If you can find a source for that, it might be worth putting in. Daniel Case (talk) 18:12, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

14 Septmber 2009 I just watched the film Reader. The storyline appears to be also an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's short story "The bet". Therefore, not fully autobiagraphical, at least in this sense. However, I was not able to find any reference to this on this site! The "clue" (since the author is prominently a detective novel writer) was presented in its emphasis on Chekhov's story "the lady with the dog". I found this fascinating. Or maybe this was the author's indirect way of giving Chekhov the necessary credit?(Parvane77 (talk)) —Preceding comment added by [[Special:Contributions/7 21:26, 14 September 2009 (UTC)

It's not in the article because it would be original research unless a reliable source made the same observation. Daniel Case (talk) 21:40, 14 September 2009 (UTC)


Where did Schlink claim that most of the criticism that this novel is apologist for the Holocaust comes from people closer to his own age than the older generation? In any case the people closer to his own age are most of the people writing nowadays, but Elie Wiesel for one has criticized the novel (or at least similar works; I can't remember the source now, but I'll look it up and add it here). And even if he claims it, does that make it true? GUSwim (talk) 02:46, 12 December 2008 (UTC)

Hmm, it was something I was looking for a couple of years ago when I wrote the article, when we were less strict about sourcing than we are now. I do remember reading it, it might even have been in something linked from the German article, I don't know. Daniel Case (talk) 03:43, 12 December 2008 (UTC)

Sorry I can't figure out how to add a new topic. There is a sentence I cannot understand at the end of the Guilt section: "that shows an unusual level of insight into what a Nazi officer shown might have been thinking" Should "shown" be deleted? —Preceding unsigned comment added by RiceMilk (talkcontribs) 10:02, 22 December 2008 (UTC)

No, it's referring to a photograph the quoted character is discussing. Daniel Case (talk) 16:19, 22 December 2008 (UTC)

I have probably made the mistake of film before book, but find that the thing which makes me most angry about this film is what I percieved as a cowardice or guilt that Berg allows to stop him saving Hanna from herself. But never mind Berg or Hanna, that no one in Hannas life saves her from herself either. I shamefully forget why that character is on trial but am reminded that she need not be there. Perhaps because nobody provided for Hanna what the rest of us take for granted and in so doing she is allowed to become a scape goat for the failings of others. Ultimatley at the very end she has what salvageable modicum of trust and sense of love she has ever enjoyed taken from her in one final and cruel act of betrayal. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Locksmith01 (talkcontribs) 15:41, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Well, the book does discuss this in more detail (much of it is Michael's internal monologue, ruminating over it. I quoted some in the themes section, but not the relevant parts). Daniel Case (talk) 16:00, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Telling his daughter[edit]

This article says that in the end he tells his daughter about his relationship with Hanna, although it did happen in the film, I have checked my novel and it did not end like that. Is this because I have the new edition or is that fact wrong? --Tieu yeu nu (talk) 11:43, 15 March 2009 (UTC)

No, you're right. Often, after a movie comes out based on a book, people edit the book article either thinking they're editing the movie article or because they think the movie follows the book more closely than it may actually do. Daniel Case (talk) 16:00, 15 March 2009 (UTC)


There is one important error in this article, and that is the statement that the affair between Michael and Hanna both is and was illegal. The current age of consent in Germany is 14, and Michael is one year above that. The only exception to this is if somebody aged 14-15 is sexually abused and turns in their rapist, in which case it is treated like any other rape case. It's important to do your homework, and not assume that all countries have the same age of consent. Regardless of what we may think of the morality of the act, it is completely legal by today's legal standards, and while I cannot say that I have read lawbooks from the Nazi era, I know that the current law is just an affirmation of what was already legal praxis. Most periods in history have had an age limit of 14 or 15, and unless he was abused, received some kind of material compensation, or was promised a cosy little future with her involving wedding bells, it is and was completely legal.

That was in a bit from the German Wikipedia article that I translated. Daniel Case (talk) 00:52, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

Oh, and finally, a remark about the word "Vorlesen". Someone remarked that it can also mean "lecture", which is true, but that is by implication that a professor lectures from his pulpit. He thus "reads aloud" to his students. The meaning is clearly a reference to reading aloud, but you could always make a case for double entendre, I suppose. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:59, 25 July 2009 (UTC)

Bernhard Schlink on the BBC's World Book Club[edit]

A chance to get information to improve this article! Bernhard Schlink will be talking about The Reader on the edition of the BBC radio programme World Book Club broadcast on 1 January 2010 at 8pm GMT. EdQuine (talk) 16:15, 12 October 2010 (UTC)

You mean 2011, right? Daniel Case (talk) 19:08, 12 October 2010 (UTC)

"characters who actually appear in the mimetic sense"[edit]

Under the Characters section, I removed "who actually appear in the mimetic sense", to make it "...none of the significant characters have names."

That seems complete - as far as I can tell, the "mimetic sense" doesn't anything to the meaning of the sentence, and it raises the reading difficulty significantly. --Chriswaterguy talk 05:31, 22 October 2010 (UTC)


I'm not sure what the reverting is all about. The material is not contentious, and sources can be found fairly easily for all or most of it, which is what I'm in the process of doing. But I see well-sourced material is also being removed, and I didn't understand the point of this addition: "Critic Ruth Franklin notes that 'we must' take Hanna's illiteracy as a metaphor ..." [2] Franklin doesn't say that we must do it (and why is "we must" in quotation marks?), only that it is a metaphor, which indeed it is. No one has questioned that.

Could Roscelese explain here what the issue is? SlimVirgin talk|contribs 05:33, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

Er, seriously? "We must" is in quotes because it's a quote from Franklin's book. Indeed, that is a common function of quote marks. Please look at page 201 again, where Franklin not only says that we must accept it as a metaphor, but where she uses those exact words.
You really need to find sources for the stuff you're adding back. The "Style" section? Only cited to The Reader. If you've published an analysis, that's great, congratulations, but it needs to be cited just like any other text. Stuff like "Schlink uses both the spare tone of the detective novels he had previously written, though with a more reflective, sometimes poetic, approach consistent with the weighty material" is analysis, and it needs to be cited or it's original research.
Hanna's illiteracy as metaphor for modern understanding of the Holocaust? Cite it. Not only is it analysis, it directly contradicts the cited analysis (Franklin's), which is that her illiteracy and ignorance are what allowed ordinary people to perpetrate the Holocaust.
-- Roscelese (talkcontribs) 05:59, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
It looks like tendentious editing, possibly retaliation. See this diff [3] and talk page thread User_talk:Roscelese#Warning. Jehochman Talk 05:56, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
So I think that miscellany to be deleted should go to MfD instead of AfD, and so you warned me for adding an original research warning to the talkpage of a user who added original research, and this is evidence of "retaliation"? Can't you find any stronger evidence? Roscelese (talkcontribs) 06:06, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Okay, well, I hope this isn't connected to the noticeboard, Roscelese. Regardless of that, I didn't write this article. I saw you removing large sections of unproblematic material, and so I restored most of it, and have started looking for references. You're welcome to help with that. If there's material for which no references can be found, of course it will be removed, but please give it a chance, per V. There's no BLP issue, no urgency. See WP:BURDEN.
But I also saw you removing material that was sourced. And you've just violated 3RR, I think. Would you mind reverting yourself, please? SlimVirgin talk|contribs 06:10, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
It's not connected to the noticeboard; the article came up in "Recent changes," I dismissed it a few times because I don't leap on everything that comes up, but after a few more times it seemed like fate. Anyway, could you point out what I removed that was sourced? (I don't mean to The Reader, because of course, secondary sources need to be found.) I tried to leave in the stuff you cited from Franklin, but if I accidentally removed something that should be there, of course I'll restore it. (And likewise, if sources can be found for the blocks I removed, by all means! It's just that they can't be there without proper sourcing.) Roscelese (talkcontribs) 06:16, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Would you please revert yourself first of all? You've reverted the same material four times, which violates WP:3RR. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 06:20, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Yup. And after that, would you do the same? :) (I made some changes not related to the removal of original research, so do make sure you get those too!) Roscelese (talkcontribs) 06:24, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
  • Take it easy. If something seems dubious, make a list here on the talk page. Give people a chance to respond. Then decide what to do. Don't flip flop the article back and forth. That doesn't accomplish anything. And don't slap ugly tags all over it while the issue is under active discussion. Those tags are good for inactive articles where you notice a problem but don't have time to fix. Here several editors are engaged in fixing problems, so just list 'em on the talk page and give them a chance. Thanks. Jehochman Talk 06:55, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
As I said to SV below, this isn't a new article - this stuff has been here for ages. Edits that remove or source OR are great, but work in progress doesn't preclude the usage of the "work not yet completed" tag - indeed, perhaps the opposite.
So, why don't we begin with the problems I've already listed? In case one has forgotten: the "Style" section was until a few moments ago completely unsourced (and the newly cited source doesn't support everything there), parts of "Metaphor" are still unsourced, and in particular, the comment about Hanna's illiteracy representing modern understanding of the Holocaust is not only unsourced but contradicted by at least three sources. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 07:04, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

(ec) I don't understand what's going on here. Four reverts of material, and now reverting to add a tag, while someone is working to try to fix the article. Why not give it a chance? SlimVirgin talk|contribs 06:56, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

Er, this isn't a new article. The section on "literary elements" has been there for months upon months with no secondary sources to speak of. You're adding sources, and that's great. But original research is a problem - that's why WP:NOR is one of the three core content policies - and as such it should be marked. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 07:04, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
It is disruptive for you to remove content while other editors are actively working on improving and referencing that content. How are they supposed to work when you are there ripping up their materials while they are working with them? Please stop before somebody else imposes external restrictions on your editing. Jehochman Talk 07:07, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
I apologize for repeating myself on my own talk page and on this page, but restoring unsourced material is not the same thing as restoring the same material but providing a source. The difference there would be the presence of a source. Perhaps it's just a different editing style, but personally, if content I wanted to include was removed for lack of a source, I would find a source and then restore the content, rather than leave rubbish lying around. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 07:20, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Roscelese, you're misinterpreting the policy. There is material that could be OR if no sources exist, but we first have to look for the sources. There is other material that's fine sourced to the primary source. The NOR policy isn't a sledge hammer for removing anything that doesn't have a ref tag after it.
What was it that brought you to this article, and why the rush to remove material right in the middle of an editor searching for sources for it? I can't see why you think our time is better spent arguing with you, than adding sources. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 07:09, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Really? Were you searching for sources for it when I removed it? You realize I had no way of knowing that the first time since your single contribution to the article was a reference that didn't support the statement it was cited for, and since when you restored the information you didn't add citations for it? Surely you're not suggesting that speaking to me was what prevented you from finding sources. I know your time is too precious to waste on someone who hasn't contributed to ten feature articles, but maybe you can multitask. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 07:20, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Look, I'm not going to argue with you anymore. You could see that I was working on the page, but you kept reverting from under me anyway. You were recently asked on AN/I not to behave so aggressively, and you've been asked the same thing here and on your talk page several times, so please give it some thought. I had limited time to work on this tonight, so I have to stop now anyway. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 07:32, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
You're really going to suggest that the removal of original research is equivalent to a personal attack? If you're going to take any reversion of your edits as a personal attack, then yes, I agree that a break might help you out. Good night. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 07:42, 21 January 2011 (UTC)


Roscelese has repeatedly removed or requested more sources for this passage, [4] though it is already sourced—and has now added other material and sources inside the passage, separating the text from its source at the end of the paragraph. But I can't see what's problematic about it:

In addition to complicating Michael's (and our own) estimation of Hanna's culpability, her illiteracy becomes a metaphor for modern understanding of the Holocaust. Even the title of the book plays on this; in German, the verb vorlesen applies only to reading aloud, as Michael does for Hanna. Germany had the highest literacy rate in Europe; Franklin suggests that Hanna's illiteracy represented the ignorance that allowed ordinary people to commit atrocities. Michael's relationship with Hanna, partly erotic and partly maternal, stands for the ambivalent relationship of present-day Germany and its Nazi past: the past is "mother" of Michael's generation, and he eventually finds out, like other Germans of his generation, that his "parents" were guilty. Only through his relationship with Hanna can Michael get well; Franklin interprets that to mean that "postwar Germany is sick, and it can begin to heal only through its encounter with the Nazi past."[1]

The source is Ruth Franklin's A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2010.

What is wrong with the source-text relationship, and why are you using articles from newspapers, rather than an academic source? SlimVirgin talk|contribs 21:02, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

The first statement is flatly untrue, unless you can find another source that presents an interpretation different from Franklin's. Franklin writes that Hanna's illiteracy stands in for ignorance during the Holocaust, not for ignorance fifty years later. And she certainly doesn't say that the title reinforces this interpretation, since it's not an interpretation she agrees with - she notes that the title has a meaning that can't be conveyed in translation, but her observation of the fact doesn't give any editor license to use it to claim that she's making statements not only that she doesn't make, but that contradict statements she does make.
The newspaper sources mostly corroborate Franklin's interpretation. That way, one can tell that that's the dominant interpretation, rather than some fringe theory from Franklin. But if you'd like to find more scholarly sources (or, y'know, add more citations to Franklin if you think every sentence needs an inline citation), go on ahead - God forbid you waste time talking to other editors. The ones I've read don't tend to support those blocks of text, though - Catastrophe and meaning, for example, uses the same quote "It is the book itself that creates distance," but still doesn't use it to propound this theory that it's all about late-20th-century understanding of the Holocaust. Holocaust Literature mentions her question to the judge, but doesn't suggest the interpretation that this article gives. Where are you getting all this from? Roscelese (talkcontribs) 22:31, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
Her book is published by Oxford University Press. It is not a fringe theory, and she doesn't need newspapers to support it. I don't think it's going to be possible for me to edit this article with you, Roscelese, so I'm going to leave you to it for now. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 22:57, 21 January 2011 (UTC)
If you think the newspaper sources are inappropriate, then remove them and provide an edit summary indicating such. Up until this point, you've just removed them without comment, so I assumed that you were just blindly reverting. Anyway, suit yourself. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 23:03, 21 January 2011 (UTC)

Note from original writer of the disputed section[edit]

I have watched this battle erupt on my watchlist for the last few days, somewhat bemused that a level of drama of this magnitude came to one of the sleepy corners of the project I mind.

It is on my watchlist because it was I who first expanded this to something like its present form, and am still the largest contributor to it.

I wrote the section currently under dispute when there was, as far as I was aware at that time, neither WP:NOVELS nor an understanding that WP:OR applied to intepretations of literary works. I had read it in a Holocaust literature class, and felt that it deserved some discussion of its themes and techniques. So, naturally, like anyone else with an advanced degree in English, I took a stab at it myself, with whatever I could cull from the German article (Remember, back then, we hadn't gotten so religious about inline citations).

I've been amazed that that section stayed largely intact for this long, when similar sections I wrote for The Lovely Bones and The Devil Wears Prada were purged a long time ago. Do with it as you will ... I'm more than willing to admit it is long out of compliance with OR. When you guys settle on something here, perhaps we can look at getting some recognition for this? It's otherwise a pretty strong article. Daniel Case (talk) 02:47, 22 January 2011 (UTC)

I'm not sure which section you mean, Daniel (there were a couple being removed), but in general I think the article is fine in terms of reflecting what the sources say. It's just a question of adding inline citations, checking the examples, and maybe fixing the flow up a bit. I have a couple of academic sources here I can use for it, but I'll wait to let Roscelese fix it up in whatever way she has in mind, then I'll add what I have later if it's still needed. Thanks for writing it, by the way. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 19:18, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
The one that's now "literary elements". It has been reworked considerably, mostly for the better, and some of what I put in is actually supported by sources, so obviously I wasn't alone in the things I noticed in my little reaction paper.

Yes, let's wait for Ros to serve out her block, then go on. Daniel Case (talk) 03:18, 23 January 2011 (UTC)

And here I am. Though, as I said, the large blocks of unsourced analysis were a problem, and my preferred editing style is to remove them until sources can be found - my main problem is, of course, with this insistence both in the lead and in the body that the book's supposed to be about modern reaction to the Holocaust. This isn't what the sources say. In fact they say pretty unequivocally that H's illiteracy stands in for understanding of the Holocaust during the Holocaust. (Of course, if another source could be found that supports the current text, we'd have to include that as well - but we'd also have to avoid presenting the "modern understanding" interpretation as the primary one, the way the article does now.) Haymaker is fond of reverting my own edits even when (especially when?) they conform with the sources, so to maximize peace on this article, I suggest that another editor be the one either to remove the "modern understanding" statements in the lead and body, or to restore the [citation needed] tags until a citation can be found.
In the meantime, I think I'm going to work on the "intertextuality" section, because I think intertextuality is pretty cool and I want to see if I can find more sources that discuss the texts referenced. Does anyone else want to work on that (such that I should avoid getting underfoot), or are we good?
As for sources, I've been taking cursory looks at Holocaust Literature (Kremer) and Catastrophe and meaning (Zeitlin), and I haven't yet exhausted what's there, so they could still be useful for other sections. There are other books too, of course, but my primary goal was to find some way of citing what was already in the article, so some of the other books I found weren't initially useful. I'm sure they could be if anyone wanted to write sections from scratch. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 04:27, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
That sounds fine to me. I think the argument that the illiteracy is a metaphor for understanding then is difficult to sustain. The argument would be that people weren't trying to understand it then; they were just in it (banality of evil etc). That's where the illiteracy metaphor takes us. Hanna's learning how to read stands for learning how to understand. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 04:46, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Which is of course supported by her reading Holocaust books - I'm pretty sure some of the references note that. (Also, possible ambiguity: illiteracy as lack of understanding, perhaps I should have said, or of the state of understanding not being very good. The interpretation seems to have a few subtle variations, but it's definitely not about a modern viewpoint.) Roscelese (talkcontribs) 04:51, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Yes, I see what you're saying now. It's a metaphor for the condition then, and a tool for us. I didn't understand Franklin's sentence about this: "Even if we accept her illiteracy as a metaphor (as we must, since Germany had the highest literacy rate in Europe), is it fair to assert that her sin is primarily ignorance?" I don't understand the words in parentheses, because they suggest that the ignorance, like the illiteracy, wasn't widespread in that country, whereas in fact the involvement, or failure to object, was indeed widespread. So I wonder what she means by "as we must, since ..." SlimVirgin talk|contribs 05:04, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure it's "since Germany had such a high literacy rate, it's definitely not just by chance that Hanna is illiterate" - to use an analogy, it would be much harder to argue, if Hanna is blonde, that her blondeness represents something because many other Germans are blond/e. I don't think it's the most convincing argument - the illiteracy is clearly metaphorical enough without that datum - but so be it. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 05:08, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Okay, that makes sense. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 05:24, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
Would you recommend removing the wrong information about modern reaction to the Holocaust, or marking it as uncited in case someone manages to find a guy that does argue that? Roscelese (talkcontribs) 19:51, 23 January 2011 (UTC)

Re: intertextuality - does anyone know how to find a copy of "Intertextuality in Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser"? It's referred to elsewhere as being in press, but that was in 2003 and I can't find it in any of the usual databases. Perhaps it wasn't published after all. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 08:01, 29 January 2011 (UTC)

Still OR[edit]


These paragraphs are still only cited to the primary text. Failing the inclusion of secondary sources, they are original research.


Schlink's main theme 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."[1] For his cohorts, there was the unique position of being blameless and the sense of duty to call to account their parents' generation:

... [which] had been served by the guards and enforcers, or had done nothing to stop them, or had not banished them from their midst as it could have done after 1945, was in the dock, and we explored it, subjected it to trial by daylight, and condemned it to shame ... We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst ... The more horrible the events about which we read and heard, the more certain we became of our responsibility to enlighten and accuse.[2]

But while he would like it to be as simple as that, his experience with Hanna complicates matters:

I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna's crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hanna, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks—understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both.[3]

Hanna and Michael's asymmetrical relationship enacts, in microcosm, the pas de deux of older and younger Germans in the postwar years: Michael concludes that "the pain I went through because of my love for Hanna was, in a way, the fate of my generation, a German fate."[4] This idea plays itself out in the scene where the student Michael hitchhikes to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp site during the trial, to get what he hopes will be some sense of the place. The driver who picks him up is an older man who questions him closely about what he believes motivated those who carried out the killings, then offers an answer of his own:

An executioner is not under orders. He's doing his work, he doesn't hate the people he executes, he's not taking revenge on them, he's not killing them because they're in his way or threatening or attacking them. They're a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not.[5]

After the man tells an anecdote about a photograph of Jews being shot in Russia, one that he supposedly saw, but which showed an unusual level of insight into what a Nazi officer shown might have been thinking, Michael suspects him of being that officer and confronts him. The man stops the car and asks him to leave.[6]


Michael is aware that all his attempts to visualize what Hanna might have been like back then, what happened, are colored by what he has read and seen in movies. He feels a difficult identification with the victims when he learns that Hanna often picked one prisoner to read to her, as she chose him later on, only to send that girl to Auschwitz and the gas chamber after several months. Did she do it to make the last months of the condemned more bearable? Or to keep her secret safe? Michael's inability to both condemn and understand springs from this. He asks himself and the reader:

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?[7]


  1. ^ The Reader, p. 181.
  2. ^ The Reader, pp. 92–93.
  3. ^ The Reader, p. 157.
  4. ^ The Reader, p. 171.
  5. ^ The Reader, p. 151.
  6. ^ The Reader, p. 152.
  7. ^ The Reader, p. 104.


I mean, the stuff under "Style" is odd because it's about theme rather than style, and some of it's already covered under "metaphor" - but it still needs to be cited to secondary sources if it is to be included. Similarly, the excerpt above under "Metaphor" may well mean what the article currently says it means, but we need reliable sources that assert this, not editors' own analysis of the text. It's all very lovely for a paper but not very encyclopedic. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 02:23, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

I think I had described it originally as "theme and technique", but someone else later decided to rename it. Daniel Case (talk) 03:49, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Yeah, I suppose it could be re-combined under your original heading if everyone felt that was necessary. However, that doesn't correct the more immediate problem. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 04:56, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
It's OR according to a strict reading of the policy, but personally I find it okay because there's nothing contentious in it. It's almost just a description of the obvious themes, and I think sources would be fairly easy to find. I have no problem, though, if someone wants to rewrite it. SlimVirgin TALK|CONTRIBS 16:20, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
My defense (had I been asked to give one at the time I'd written it) was that I hoped that it might be obvious from the quoted bits, in a mannner analogous to how original images are permitted as an exception to OR in order to support assertions made in the text. For example, when I find as I sometimes do that the buildings and other things listed on the National Register of Historic Places that I write about often have changed somewhat from the way the way were described at the time of nomination, I know the picture in the infobox will often support what I have to write in the text even if there is no source for it. A specific example of this is Beekman Friends Meeting House, a long-abandoned yet intact building when it was listed, but an overgrown ruin when I photographed it).

I do admit this insistence on citing interpretations of text can sometimes go overboard. In a review of an article someone else had written about a U.S. Supreme Court decision, an editor insisted that our text should not presume to summarize or describe the Court's opinion (when I write those articles, I quote frequently and at some length because the original text is PD and there's no issue there; but I can't do that forever and it's easier for the reader if I paraphrase in between the quoted sections with really (I like to think) pungent judicial prose)) without citing someone else who did. Legal writing may be a bit denser than journalistic prose, but it's not impenetrable and I think we are on firm ground doing so ourselves. Hypothetical legal arguments or cases suggested or implied by the decision are, however, properly the province of legal scholars writing on their blawgs or in law reviews, and those should only be included in our articles when someone else has entertained them in those fora.

Perhaps this situation does call for some discussion as to what would be proper literary and textual analysis under OR; however I do understand that with works of literature there may be less tolerance here because it inherently subjective. Daniel Case (talk) 18:23, 7 February 2011 (UTC)

I think anything so obviously supported by the primary text as to be uncontroversial would belong in the synopsis, not in the themes. We can't analyze, but we can report (or paraphrase) what the text says outright. (Or if there are secondary sources, we can discuss is as analysis.) Roscelese (talkcontribs) 06:19, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
I think that the synopsis is just fine. Not everything needs a citation, only facts that could be challenged. A book can be used as a primary source for a summary of itself. Wikipedia editors are competent to summarize content. If somebody read the book, they can very well summarize what it said. There is no need to find a secondary source that summarizes the book, and then we must summarize what the secondary source says. That would be silly. If there are specific parts of the summary you object to, please state what seems dubious and we can look for sources. Please don't wholesale remove a perfectly good summary. That's not helping Wikipedia. Jehochman Talk 18:49, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
As I noted last time you falsely claimed that I had removed content from the summary, that's not what this discussion is about. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 19:03, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
What are you talking about? I am not claiming anything "falsely". Jehochman Talk 20:13, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
To say that I blanked or hid anything from the synopsis when I in fact only ever blanked or hid things relating to analysis would be false, yes. Roscelese (talkcontribs) 20:16, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Roscelese, I think the point here is we're saying it's better to have that material in the article than to see it removed. It's not contentious; it's nicely written; and it's informative. It would benefit from having secondary sources, and maybe it could be rewritten to accommodate them. No one is arguing against that, I don't think. But if the option is leaving it as it is, or blanking it, I think we're saying leave it. SlimVirgin TALK|CONTRIBS 20:54, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
I recommend starting by moving the parts of "Style" that don't discuss style and that instead discuss themes into "Metaphor," which already discusses that particular theme. That'll certainly make the task seem less daunting. As for the last part of "Metaphor," do you think that could be moved into "Synopsis"? Is it more or less a paraphrasing of the text? Roscelese (talkcontribs) 21:06, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
I'm fine with moving non-style issues into Metaphor. Not sure what you mean by the last part of Metaphor, but if you think it's better in Synopsis, I have no problem with you moving it. SlimVirgin TALK|CONTRIBS 02:35, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
I'm referring to "Michael is aware that all his attempts to visualize..." through the end of the section, which is sourced only to the primary text. I think that if the non-quote part is basically a paraphrase of text from the primary source, it can go in "synopsis"; if instead it's some editor's analysis, a secondary source should be found. (We already have secondary references about Michael's reaction to Holocaust media, but not making the same point or with the same quote.) Roscelese (talkcontribs) 02:46, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Personally I have no problem with you moving material or rewriting it. SlimVirgin TALK|CONTRIBS 04:30, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Thanks. I'm hesitant to do anything about that stuff in "Metaphor," though, unless I know it really is basically a paraphrase that could go in "Synopsis" - can someone who remembers the book better than I do clarify? Roscelese (talkcontribs) 05:05, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
A fair bit of it is visible on Amazon if you use the search facility. If you read from page to page it will stop you, but if you jump around using search you get to see more. SlimVirgin TALK|CONTRIBS 05:12, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────That is in the book, near the end. If I can find my copy I'll put in the page number. Daniel Case (talk) 17:21, 9 February 2011 (UTC)