Examining various societies, and the literature they produce, scholars have noted a difference between ‘outer-directed’ and ‘inner-directed’ civilizations.
Authors like Homer and Virgil reflect an ‘outer-directed’ (or ‘other-directed’) worldview, and their characters are motivated by shame, or by a desire to avoid shame.
Writers like Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Kafka express an ‘inner-directed’ (or ‘self-directed’) society, and their characters are deeply affected by guilt, or by the effort to avoid guilt.
The inner-directed character seeks justice and forgiveness as the remedy for his guilt. The outer-directed individual seeks to restore honor and fulfill expectations which society places upon him. Jayson Georges writes that scholars
identify three responses to sin in human cultures: guilt, shame, and fear. These three moral emotions have become the foundation for three types of culture: (1) guilt-innocence cultures are individualistic societies (mostly Western), where people who break the laws are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to rectify a wrong, (2) shame-honor cultures describes collectivistic cultures (common in the East), where people shamed for fulfilling group expectations seek to restore their honor before the community, and (3) fear-power cultures refers to animistic contexts (typically tribal or African), where people afraid of evil and harm pursue power over the spirit world through magical rituals.
The third category, the ‘fear-power’ culture, is less relevant to literary contexts, because these societies leave little belletristic text. They are examples of a pre-religious phase, centered on myth as explanation and magic as an attempt to manipulate nature.
The ‘guilt-innocence’ culture and the ‘shame-honor’ culture do not attempt to control nature or to concoct explanatory fables.
Instead, the guilt culture seeks confession, forgiveness, restitution if possible, and reconciliation. The shame culture seeks a renewed recognition in the wake of a moral failure.
In this way, readers can understand the motives and actions of characters liked Raskolnikov, Gregor Samsa, Aeneas, Odysseus, and Achilles.