What is Guilt?

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.

Can literature reveal human truths, and if so, what kinds of truths?

In revolutionary road, Frank and April Wheeler seem like good upstanding members of middle class society with two nice kids, and a nice house in the suburbs. However, it is revealed that neither of them is happy, and neither of them wanted to be what they are. They started out idealistic and rebellious. However, over time, their rebellion lost it’s sheen and they began to conform. The Campbells don’t love each other, the Givings sent their son to an asylum, and the Wheelers come to the conclusion that they may never have loved each other, yet they don’t fix it. Maybe that’s a human truth; it’s impossible to be happy, to be in a happy relationship, if you’re living a lie and trying to be a respectable person. No one can truly be themselves in their society without fear of what people will think. However, no one tries to remedy their situation. The Givings care more about peoples’ opinions than their own son. Mr. Givings just turns off his hearing aid when his wife speaks, Mr. Campbell is silently in love with April, and the Wheelers never actually make the proper arrangements to move to France.


Frank and April both had what seemed to be respectable middle class parents, and despite how messed up their childhoods were, they became their parents, playing into the cycle of middle class families, their appearances, and their truths. After one visit, John Givings pointed to Alice’s stomach and said he would never want to be that child, they had created a toxic environment within the confines of their home. Despite the child finally being aborted, April’s actions intent on saving her and her unborn child, gave her other children her very own childhood. They would be raised by relatives, they wouldn’t see their parents very often, and they would end up having some version of the trauma April had. The cyclical nature of the characters lives show how futile their different attempts at escaping the depressing confines of typical middle class life are.


If these are human truths, then Revolutionary Road is blatantly honest. I’m not sure literature can reveal positive human truths, but perhaps, it can reveal the dart truths we would never willingly reveal to ourselves. Revolutionary Road suggests not only that there is a depressing side to middle class life, but that it’s such a powerful prison, not even our children can escape it.

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