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The Prison of Shame

PsycCRITIQUES , Volume 54 (47) – Nov 25, 2009


American Psychological Association
Copyright © 2009 by American Psychological Association
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The Prison of Shame


<p>“The notion of secrecy is central to Western literature. You may say the whole idea of character is defined by people holding specific information which, for various reasons, sometimes perverse, sometimes noble, they are determined not to disclose,” so says the literature teacher in the movie The Reader. The Reader revolves around two main characters: Hanna, a thirty-something single woman working as a tram conductor in postwar Germany, and Michael, a young adolescent who falls in love with Hanna. Looking through the lens of the quotation above, we come to realize that both Michael and Hanna are deeply flawed characters because of the shameful secrets they protect.</p> <p>Within the philosophical and psychological communities, a great deal of energy has been spent in delineating the difference between shame and guilt. Given that the two concepts are similar and often intertwined, it is easy to understand the confusion. There is a difference, though, with important implications. As Thrane (1979) pointed out, “The guilty person focuses on the act; a man ashamed focuses on himself. ‘How could I have done that ?’ says the former; but the latter will say, ‘How could I have done that?’” (p. 324). Guilt, therefore, tends
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