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quotations about guilt

We each begin in innocence. We all become guilty.

The guilty think all talk is of themselves.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER, The Canterbury Tales

Guilt is universal.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, Forward to Sweet Bird of Youth

Innocence is the weakest defense. Innocence has a single voice that can only say over and over again, "I didn't do it." Guilt has a thousand voices, all of them lies.

LEONARD F. PELTIER, Prison Writings

No acquisitions of guilt can compensate the loss of that solid inward comfort of mind, which is the sure companion of innocence and virtue; nor can in the least balance the evil of that horror and anxiety which, in their room, guilt introduces into our bosoms.


Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference. No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may be both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since these two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to relieve guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid the humiliation of shame may prevent it.

PAUL EKMAN, Telling Lies

The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.

LEWIS B. SMEDES, Shame and Grace

He who helps the guilty, shares the crime.


Guilt is always present to the mind (of the guilty).


Guilt is a rope that wears thin.

AYN RAND, Atlas Shrugged

We each begin in innocence.
We all become guilty.

LEONARD F. PELTIER, Prison Writings

No punishment is so terrible as prosperous guilt.


Grief and guilt. A powerful combination. Guilt like a liquid, a thin liquor, seeping everywhere, informing everything, saturating the whole--corrosive, like seawater, scented with the rich stench of ordure and corruption, and carrying with it hard, abrasive shards of grief.

SIMON MAWER, The Gospel of Judas

None seem to bear the imputation of supposed guilt with greater intolerance than such as are, on other occasions, obviously culpable of vice or crime.

NORMAN MACDONALD, Maxims and Moral Reflections

You wear guilt like shackles on your feet, like a halo in reverse.

I am a person who feels guilty for crimes I have not committed, or have not committed in years. The police search the train station for a serial rapist and I cover my face with a newspaper, wondering if maybe I did it in my sleep. The last thing I stole was an eight-track tape, but to this day I'm unable to enter a store without feeling like a shoplifter. It's all the anxiety with none of the free stuff.

DAVID SEDARIS, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

If you need someone to blame, throw a rock in the air, you'll hit someone guilty.

U2, "Dirty Day"

You wear guilt
Like shackles on your feet
Like a halo in reverse


A guilty mind can be eased by nothing but repentance; by which what was ill done is revoked and morally voided and undone.

BENJAMIN WHICHCOTE, Moral and Religious Aphorisms

I was always fraught with guilt, and it's such a waste of an emotion. It keeps you out of the moment of being where you are.

KYRA SEDGWICK, Good Housekeeping, Jan. 2011

Let us not search for the guilty ones only among others, let us speak the bitter truth: we are all guilty ... each and every one of us.

MAXIM GORKY, Untimely Thoughts

If allowed to be, the heart is self-policing, and a reasonable measure of guilt guards against corruption.


The hands of the guilty don't necessarily tremble; only in stories does a dropped glass betray agitation. Tension is more often shown in the studied action.


No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.

STEFAN ZWEIG, Beware of Pity

Guilt, guilt, its pious expression alone is in fact today's great absolution. Just say the guilt prayer, "I feel guilty," and hey presto, that's the punishment. The guilt is the punishment. So punished, and therefore cleansed, one can continue with the crime.


To spare the guilty is to injure the innocent.

PUBLILIUS SYRUS, The Moral Sayings of Publilius Syrus

Guilt is the source of sorrows; 'tis the fiend, the avenging fiend that follows us behind with whips and stings.

NICHOLAS ROWE, The Fair Penitent

Guilt: punishing yourself before God doesn't.

ALAN COHEN, Why Your Life Sucks

Guilt is a useless feeling. It's never enough to make you change direction--only enough to make you useless.

DANIEL NAVERI, Another Faust

Guilt is oftentimes the strongest witness against itself.



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