The Holocaust is a terrible phenomenon that hardly left anyone indifferent in the entire world. Many artists depicted it and its consequences on their canvas while many writers created breathtaking stories basing on the events that took place during the period of the Holocaust or simply taking this phenomenon as the main plot line of their books. A German judge and law professor Bernhard Schlink is one of such authors. His incredibly deep and touching novel titled “The Reader” shows how difficult it appeared for the post-war German generation to comprehend the Holocaust. In his book, the author reveals a crucial theme that appears to be the main one in the novel – the theme of guilt.
Reading the novel carefully, one can notice that the author tries to show that the nature of the Holocaust is a source of guilt that involves as many people as possible. As one can see, there were almost no people who could stay aside of it. The main representative of this theme is Hanna due to the fact that she becomes one of the foot-soldiers of the Holocaust. Though she was not an active agent of the Holocaust and after the end of the war such people were claimed to be innocent because of not being on the same level as Goebbels and Hitler, she still bears responsibility for her actions.
Making Hanna the one who is guilty, Schlink shows that any person who participated in the Holocaust is guilty to lesser or more extent since, instead of it, he or she could choose the path of resistance. Hanna realizes her guilt; this statement is supported with the quote by Hanna when she says to the judge in the trial “What would you do?” (122). Becoming the guard in the camp is a decision that was made by the central character with the aim to disguise her illiteracy. In this way, Hanna´s personal failure led to numerous deaths of innocent people. In fact, when Hanna learns how to write and read, she is conquered by guilt and the feeling of remorse. The important point is that Hanna managed to overcome her illiteracy and learn to read and write, but she could not hide from her guilt. Through this paradox, the Bernhard Schlink attempted to show that readers how important it is to be in charge of one´s actions and consequences to which they lead.
However, Hanna is not the only one who becomes a victim of own guilt. Michael faces the issue of guilt as well; at the end of the novel, he faces the truth that he did not do everything he could to change Hanna´s life for better. He even did not talk to her when he saw her in the court and did not write letters to her even though he knew that she could read already. The point is that in her attempt to obscure her illiteracy, the woman lies, and Michael watches it doing nothing to prevent her from it. Thus, making no attempts to contact Hanna during all the time while she is in prison is a wrong action by Michael and leads him to guilt. The way in which the author presented the emotional development of Hanna and Michael makes readers admit that there is too little room for decent precision and complete judgments.
Making all main characters of the novel guilty for something to a certain extent, the author Bernhard Schlink makes hints that sometimes it appears rather difficult for people to define good and bad, right and wrong. As a result, they do some things that lead to negative results; however, they do not even imagine the power of their actions and the consequences to which they may lead. Perhaps, reading the novel, some readers will not simply judge Michael and Hanna for their hasty and disastrous actions and decisions, but will also find themselves in these characters. Probably, many of the readers made if not such but at least alike mistakes choosing a wrong path of their lives. Realizing it, one can understand that the key message that the author intended to communicate to his readers through the theme of guilt was that people should be more attentive to what they do since each step and each word has its outcome that may bring a lot of pain to someone. Undoubtedly, all people make mistakes, and it is a norm of life since no one is perfect. However, everyone should bear responsibility for what he or she does.
Taking into consideration the above conducted analysis, one can see how maturely the German judge and law professor depicted all the tragedy of the Holocaust through the theme of guilt and the plot line that revealed the intimate relationship between Michael and Hanna. Schlink showed everything he could in his novel, including the Holocaust itself, the mistakes people made at the time due to various reasons, personal tragedies that led to mistakes or became the outcomes of them, and the great tragedy for the entire nation that is known as the Holocaust. Mistakes are a good teacher since making them people see what they do wrong and have a chance to avoid the same mistakes in the future. However, it is a big question whether a mistake can be considered useful when it results in a great number of deaths.