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The Reader: Illiteracy Effects On One's Thought Processes

1442 words - 6 pages

Illiteracy Affects on Ones Thought Processes
Themes of betrayal, guilt and love are intertwined in Bernhard Schlink’s, The Reader, however, looking at a more in depth analysis of the text, one could argue if Hanna is able to think clearly and effectively given her circumstances. Hanna Schmitz, a forty-year-old conductor from Germany, begins a romantic relationship with fifteen-year-old Michael, and during their relationship he constantly read to her. All of her life Hanna struggled with the fact that she could not read and write, and even when she had an alibi during a trial, she would not admit to the court that she was illiterate. Literacy often is discussed in contrast to opposite ...view middle of the document...

Hanna was thoroughly indulged in the readings and was capable of following along with the pieces of literature Michael was reading to her.
Cognitive Psychologist Ellen Hunt explains, “Language does not seem to be essential for complex mental processes, despite the fact that language facilitates problem solving.” It is true that one who is illiterate will have difficulty solving problems. Problem solving in regards to Hanna did in fact become an issue. One morning, Michael went out to buy breakfast for the two lovers and left Hanna a note to explain his whereabouts. Hanna was worried sick about Michael, feeling as though he is just a child and he is her responsibility, and when he returned, Hanna was very upset with him. Michael explains the note he left, but she claims she never saw a note. Clearly, Hanna was unable to solve this issue on her own, and instead, was very irritated with Michael for leaving. However, in fact Hanna most likely did see the note, but could not comprehend, thus she took her anger out on Michael.
After conducting research to “study the effects of literacy acquisition on thought” psychologist Alfred Bernardo came to the following conclusion:
“In this research, the direct effects of literacy on thought were studied by comparing performances of illiterate, non-formal literate, and formal literate respondents across the five different communities. The overall results of the study reveal an unequivocal absence of such direct effects of literacy. In the first four cognitive tasks studied (conceptual understanding, conceptual organization, conceptual comparison, and deductive reasoning), there was consistently no systematic difference between the performances of the illiterate participants, the literate participants, and the schooled participants.”
Bernardo’s study concluded that illiterate individuals did not exhibit any signs of poor performance when it came to conceptual understanding, conceptual organization, conceptual comparison and deductive reasoning. This claim is relevant when following Hanna’s progress throughout the text. When on trial, Hanna could have presented the Judge with an alibi confirming that she did not commit the crime, but instead, would rather plead guilty than allow the court to be aware she is illiterate. Once Hanna is in person, Michael follows her story and decides to continue to read to her via tape recordings. Michael chooses novels and poems to recite to Hanna, and then mails them to her. Towards the end of the novel, Hanna admits to Michael that he taught her to read. She would borrow the same books from the prison that Michael was reading to her, and follow along as she listens to his words. Hanna is direct evidence that Bernardo’s study is factual – she was able to understand, organize her thoughts and words, and exemplify deductive reasoning as she taught herself to read.
Within just a few years, developmental psychologist Mark Cole conducted a similar study to Bernardo’s and...

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