A Survey of the Responses of “Second Generation” Readers to Bernhard Schlink’s the Reader: A Study in Generational Identification and Anxiety in China

By Charles Lowe.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader presents a situation that readers in contemporary China might find immediately relevant. The Reader tells a story from the perspective of a member of the “second generation” attempting to come to terms with the culpability of a previous generation who was old enough to have either participated in the war effort or who recognized what was occurring under Nazism. While located in a radically different historical circumstance, the generation following a generation — marked by politically inspired traumatic occurrences, such as the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward — would be attentive, it is argued, to a text marked by intergenerational conflict, complicity, and silences.

It is proposed in the paper to give a brief reading of The Reader followed by an examination of the controversy not unexpectedly provoked amongst critics by a first-person narrative merging the themes of illiteracy with political and sexual victimization. Then, the historical fiction will be considered as raising political, cultural, and inter-generational concerns that are poignant in the context of an increasingly urbanized society in China, a society coming to terms with past political and social upheavals, as well to a generation coming to terms with unsettling changes in sexual mores.

In the final section, a questionnaire is used to document the diverse responses to the controversial novel by graduate students in a seminar at Shanghai University of Economics and Finance. The purpose here is to test out the responses of a “second generation” audience to a provocative novel and, thereby, to suggest the significances of the thematic issues of The Reader when viewed through a different cultural lens. Importantly, the effectiveness of a survey is shown as a teaching tool: in particular, in classrooms in China where students are understandably reticent to address controversial subjects.

Keywords: Teaching Practices, Diversity, Identity, Literature

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp.23-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 609.528KB).

Dr. Charles Lowe

Lecturer, Foreign Languages Department, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China

Charles Lowe lectures on Anglophone Literatures and Cultural Studies at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. He has received a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His areas of specialization are in late 19th century British Literatures and Cultural Studies. His articles and fiction have appeared in The International Journal of the Humanities, J Journal: New Writings on Justice, Guernica, Fiction International, Pedestal Magazine, The Hardy Review, and elsewhere. A chapter is to be included in the forthcoming anthology, China and the Humanities: At the Crossroads.

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