I think guilt is a very hard thing to define. Immediately and most obviously it seems that it would be like remorse, or regret. However it’s more than that, you can feel guilty for something that you didn’t do, that you had nothing to do with or had no control over. Remorse on the other hand is much more connected to previous actions. If I was telling a little kid what guilt was I’d probably say something along the line of feeling very sad because of something that happened that shouldn’t have, and maybe even blaming it on yourself for it.
Guilt is complicated and I think there are different types and layers of guilt. One can survivor’s guilt but one can also feel guilty for one’s actions. It can be a mix of several different types. However, I think that guilt is very strongly tied to blame. That’s what makes The Reader such an interesting book when it comes to guilt. Hannah literally has a jury of her peers deciding how much blame they should place on her. I think that the amount of blame the jury placed on her was probably connected to the amount of guilt she later on felt once she began to learn and read about other people’s experiences.
In the same way there’s the question of whether Michael should feel guilty for Hannah’s actions because he was so close to her. Should we feel guilty for the actions of our loved ones? Maybe not, but I think that we often do regardless of whether we should or not. There’s also the guilt related to whether he should have helped her in the trial. There’s so much guilt in The Reader, and it doesn’t always make perfect sense, but I think that reflects the true nature of guilt. Guilt in a way can be everywhere and we share it, but different people accept it more readily than others. Some deny it, and try to pretend like Hanna. Some also embrace it, as Hanna may have done later in life.