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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 31, Issue 1, 2003

Loreta Mačianskaitė
Pages 163-173

Semiotics of guilt in two Lithuanian literary texts

The idea of the article was suggested by Lotman’s theory about two basic mechanisms of social behaviour — fear and shame. The presented paper aims at highlighting two other mechanisms of such kind — guilt and repentance. The novella Isaac (1960–61) by Antanas Škėma, the Lithuanian writer in exile, is about a Lithuanian patriot who kills a Jew called Isaac during the years of German occupation. The author’s fundamental conception implies that the real perpetrator of crime is not a separate individual but the crowd representing the values of the society. Škėma’s interpretation of history demystifies the moral system in the inter-war Lithuania and proves it to be a collection of futile signs that fail to prevent society from falling into mass psychosis and following primitive impulses. The other Lithuanian novel, Leonardas Gutauskas’ Šešėliai (Shadows) written in 2000, focuses on the tense relationships between Lithuanians and Russians, suggesting that there are several moral systems determining the concepts of guilt-repentance. The Christian agricultural society embodies the ethics of individual responsibility. The domination of the Russian ethic code is associated with the separation of Churches and the strengthening of the Orthodox Church. A moral system based on harmony and aiming to reconcile the guilty and the innocent comes across as a sought ideal. Both novels discussed exemplify different modes of a liberating society. The first one is an account of the society’s effort to become free of the guilt complex and rethink its history. The second one articulates the guilt of the Russian nation against Lithuanians and fights russophobia at the same time.

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