Shame and Literacy August 22, 2014 – Posted in: Content, infographics, Reading / Literacy
Unfortunately, I missed the boat when The Reader by Bernhard Schlink first hit American shores in 1997. Originally published in Germany it went on to sell, after an Oprah push, over two million copies in the U.S. and became the first German book to top The New York Times bestseller list.
I did; however, watch the 2008 film version recently and have been thinking about it ever since. It has to rank among the most powerful films dealing with literacy ever made.
The film follows the relationship between Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet, who won an Academy Award for performance) and a 15-year-old boy Michael (played by David Kross). Schmitz first encounters Michael when he is in the throws of scarlet fever. She helps him clean himself up and get home where he remains for three months recovering.
Once he was able to leave home he retraced his steps from that fateful day to find Schmitz and thank here for her efforts. Schmitz went on to seduce the young boy and their relationship centered around, aside from the sex, his reading aloud of the classics to her. From The Odyssey to Chekhov‘s The Lady with the Dog and plenty of good books in between Michael serenaded Schmitz.
One day Schmitz picks up and leaves and Michael does not see her again until he is a law student attending a war crimes trial and she is front and center as a defendant. In her previous life she was a guard at Auschwitz and was responsible for the deaths of many.
What we learn as things develop is that Schmitz is completely illiterate. She cannot read or write. Her shame of being illiterate is the driving force of the film. She is also, as it seems most Germans were at the time, morally illiterate and hence easily swayed by Hitler and his cronies to commit atrocious acts.
Here is the film’s trailer:
In 2012 the UNESCO Bureau of Statistics released the following infographic regarding literacy: