The Reader. . .spoiler alert!


This post may be more questions than answers. . .

I was with a group last night & we were talking about The Reader. I left with more questions than answers. It has been a while since I read the book, and I saw the movie a month or so ago.

The movie was ok for me. If you’ve read the book, you know how short it is & so to make it a full length movie, they had to add to it. When I read the book, the climax for me was the court scene. But with the movie, and the additions, the court scene was practically in the middle of the movie – maybe even a little earlier. So, I wasn’t crazy about the movie, because I left feeling like the structure of the plot had been changed. But what if it wasn’t – what if the climax is really the suicide, as one person suggested last night.

Flannery O’Connor wrote that in every good story there is a point where grace is extended, and it can be accepted or rejected. Often this is the climax. And when I was reading the book, this was the court scene. Hanna is offered a chance to get herself off the hook, but to do so, she must admit she is illiterate. Her pride ‘goes before her fall,’ and she goes to prison. (And just for the sake of anything that may follow, I do believe that it is pride & only pride that causes her to make this decision.)

But what if the climax is her suicide? She’s been in prison, paid her dues & is about to get out. She’s learned how to read using the tapes Michael sends her. Michael has agreed to help her find a place to live & get a job. So maybe this is the true extension of grace, that she (again) rejects.

So perhaps in the court scene, she realizes her guilt – there is a moment where it seems she understands for the first time the horror of what she caused by not opening the doors of the burning church – and accepts responsibility for all the deaths she caused. In this way, going to prison becomes a step in her journey of growth.

I just can’t get there.

But I can see the pinnacle of the story being Hanna’s suicide. It is a grander rejection of grace to reject it from Michael than to reject it from the judge. (And, in this case, the movie doesn’t change the structure as much – so I become less bothered.)

Another good point that was made last night is that Hanna is mean. She has a cruel streak that may indeed be from insecurity and self-loathing because she’s illiterate, but nonetheless, it is there. For me, her suicide is her final act of cruelty toward Michael. Here he has spent years making all these tapes for her, that she has used to overcome her ‘flaw’ and instead of giving him the chance to have a relationship with her as a whole person, she kills herself.

You always hear people say that suicide is the most selfish act a person can make; very true for this story.

Anyway, there is much more that could be talked about regarding The Reader. . . if you want to discuss further, please comment!

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One Reply to “The Reader. . .spoiler alert!”

  1. I agree that the climax, for me, was the court scene. Also, for me, the climax is the point at which you do not see the characters/situation in the same way. Of course her pride and inability to admit her illiteracy explains so much of what had happened in their relationship. Although her suicide changes the course of the story and what might be expected, to me it is consistent with the “new” Hannah as a person who is prideful to a fault. I think when Michael comes to visit her at the jail and looks at her, she realizes that he does not see her the way that he used to. The first thing he notices is her older and heavier exterior, and in that brief moment (at least in the book), she picks up on that. So she has lost her ability to control Michael, at least in some way, and therefore commits suicide.

    In the end, I think she was unwilling to let anyone have the “upper hand” in a relationship, probably because of her own insecurity (this would also support her decision to become a guard, no?) So the suicide doesn’t change the direction of her personality as much as finding out that she is illiterate does. Just my take!

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