(Il)literacy and (im)morality in Bernhard Schlink's 'The reader'

Johnson, Sally and Finlay, F. (2001) (Il)literacy and (im)morality in Bernhard Schlink's 'The reader'. Written Language and Literacy, 4 (2). pp. 195-214. ISSN 1570-6001

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This paper explores the theme of literacy in a recent novel, The reader, by the German author Bernhard Schlink. Drawing both on literary analysis and on the insights of the “new literacy studies”, the paper argues that the depiction of illiteracy contained in the novel is problematical in two main ways. First, there are a number of textual inconsistencies regarding the definition and portrayal of illiteracy. Second, the novel provides a questionable account of the relationship between literacy and an individual's capacity for moral and aesthetic judgement, especially in the context of debates about the Holocaust. We are therefore skeptical of the way in which The reader has been enthusiastically held up as a realistic account of illiteracy and its potential consequences, not least by Sir Claus Moser in Improving literacy and numeracy: A fresh start (1999), a report on “basic skills” produced for the Department of Education and Employment in the UK.

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Journal Article
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Written Language and Literacy
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08 Oct 2008 13:34
Last Modified:
21 Nov 2022 18:17