Bernhard Schlinks Roman The Reader im nordamerikanischen Holocaust-Diskurs
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This master’s thesis deals with the reception of Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader (1997, original Der Vorleser 1995) in North America and its role in the North American Holocaust discourse. Two questions dominate the investigation: How does The Reader reflect elements of the North American Holocaust discourse, and how does the novel contribute to this discourse? Two focal points govern this investigation. First, the North American Holocaust discourse is portrayed by means of a historical-cultural analysis of relevant literature, cinema and public events in order to understand the 'Americanization of the Holocaust,' that is how the Holocaust became an important part of American public intellectual discourse. Especially important here are The Diary of Anne Frank, the Eichmann trial and Hannah Arendt’s reportage of it, the TV-miniseries Holocaust, Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and Norman Finkelstein’s treatise Holocaust Industry. Second, the reception of Schlink’s The Reader in North American newspapers and magazines as well as in academic reviews and articles is discussed in order to show that this German novel is part of the discussion in North America. In the general public discourse the novel received mostly positive reviews, whereas in the academic discourse more critical observations were made. The resulting difference in reception stems from perspective, that is whether the novel is understood as a story about human fate or as a story about Germany’s past. The thesis concludes by synthesizing these two parts to demonstrate the interaction between Bernhard Schlink’s novel and the North American Holocaust discourse. It is shown that The Reader reflects elements of the North American Holocaust discourse, like Hannah Arendt’s thesis on the “banality of evil,” the question of how to deal with the Holocaust (film versus literature), and whether the Holocaust is part of the American discourse. Furthermore, the novel also contributes to the North American Holocaust discourse: on the one hand, The Reader follows the American discourse by giving another story and leading to a further popularisation of the Holocaust; on the other hand, the novel adds something new to the discourse, namely an individual view of perpetrators and a differentiated way of dealing with them.