The novel “The Reader” is narrated in first person by one of the main characters, Michael Berg. It is told in the style of an autobiography therefore includes his memories of certain events intermingled with current events. Consequently, these events are told from only one point of view and are reliant on one person’s memory, but also provide insights into Michael’s character and personality. There will be a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of having this style of narration in this genre of book and how the author conveys theme through the use such memories and flashbacks.
There are distinct advantages to having a main character narrate the story from his point of view – it allows for his character to become more accessible to the readership, therefore enabling them to emphathise with him and his situation. Schlink’s tone is sparse, a style exemplified by the bluntness of chapter openings at key turns in the plot, such as the first sentence of chapter seven: “The next night I fell in love with her.” His clear and unadorned language enhances the authenticity of the text. The most prominent style of narration in the book is when Michael describes a scene, then what it reminds him of. The plot of the book allows for this type of story telling as it is an account of his memories and what reminds him of those memories; for example “The building on Bahnhofstrasse is no longer there…” This is part of a description of a dream that the narrator had which reminded him of his memories of that particular place – it is not necessarily his physical presence at the place of which he is reminded of that triggers his memories, but the memory of a memory. This layering of narrative indicates how Michael’s psyche was greatly influenced by the events; the fact that the memories are not generally accessible – “but the memories wouldn’t come back” – shows that he was deeply emotionally scarred by them, emphasising their significance. Additionally, his seemingly internal struggle about whether or not to reveal the story shows how influential the memories were. This adds to the sense of reliability that was first shown by his language, as one is most likely to more accurately remember a traumatic or emotionally influential event than one that is not so; showing that the events that he is remembering are most likely portrayed to the highest degree of accuracy possible.
Nevertheless, there are disadvantages to having only one perspective on events. In third person writing, it is customary to have a general narration of the event, then different perspectives of the characters revealed, implicitly or explicitly. However, in this type there is only outlook explored. Indeed, this specific viewpoint is explored to greater depth than it possibly would have if the story was written in third person. This allows for Michael’s biases, prejudices and opinions to influence how certain characters and events are portrayed and consequently, how the readership interprets them, leaving them seemingly at the mercy of such beliefs. It is evident when his opinions of Hanna change as there is a distinguishable change of tone “but I was filled with resentment” which, however subtly, changes the readers’ opinion of Hanna and their relationship.
Scattered throughout the text, there are philosophical statements or rhetorical questions that are then illustrated by a memory of Michael’s. Schlink uses these pairs of statements and memories to illustrate main themes or foreshadow coming events in the text. For instance “When an aeroplane’s engines fail, it is not the end of the flight…” signifies the end of Hanna and Michael’s and relationship. The fact that Michael is recounting his experiences allows foreshadowing that would not have been possible if had been a present narration, further allowing him to influence the reader.
In conclusion, the method of narration is effective, but is relatively subjective, although the language used somewhat remedies this. It is inevitable that there would be some form of prejudice conveyed as it is a personal account, but it does not overly influence the reader and still allows one to make one’s own judgements.
Courtney from Study Moose
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