Hester Prynne, Huck Finn, Moses the Shepard, and Punishing Sin

With all of the biblical allusions present in literature, Moses and the Ten Commandments can be difficult to spot in a piece of writing. But, with sufficient knowledge of the story, and the stories before and after Exodus 20 can assist a reader to find these allusions. Within the story of the Ten Commandments, the motif of testing is very important. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses and put in place to create a test for God’s people, to see if they will resist temptation and worship God regardless of all else. Throughout the story of Moses, he is seen as The Shepard because of his leading the Israelites out of Egypt. This motif of leading others is also one that is often alluded to in literature.

A piece of literature that reflects the motif of testing is The Scarlet Letter. In the Puritan town of Boston, religion is a huge deal. Hester Prynne is a sinner, because she went against the commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery”(Exodus 20). So, because she failed he test of God, her punishment was her time on the scaffold. Nathaniel Hawthorne used the motif of testing in the novel show both the severity of the Puritans’ punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments, and to make Hester an example of this, truly giving a sense of how life in Boston was, and how sinners were treated.

Moses, being the most important figure other than God in the story of the Ten Commandments, is a common figure alluded to in literature. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Widow tries to teach Huck about “Moses and the Bulrushers”, whicMiss-Watson2h, if you know the story of Moses, can be comical. When Moses was a baby, his mother hid him in the bulrushes to save his life. This comical theme continues when Huck loses interest when he finds out that Moses is dead, although most know that Moses has been dead for a very, very long time. This reference to Moses not only refers to his early life, but also connects Moses to Huck Finn. In the bible, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. On the way, they are to stay in the desert for 40 days because they were disobedient to God. But, eventually they made their way, and God led Moses and the Israelites to the Ten Commandments. This is where Huck and Moses can be compared. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck brings Jim with him on his journey, which for Jim is an escape for freedom. This escape is parallel to the escape of the Israelites, and Huck is comparable to Moses, or “The Shepard”, as he is often called in religion. Each of the obstacles that Huck and Jim encounter on their way can be related to the Plagues that God had placed on Egypt in order to test the Israelites and punish those not obedient and loyal to God. If a reader making this connection wished to push it even further, they might relate this punishment of Huck to face the obstacles he faces to his disregard of the prayer at dinner with the Widow, and her story about Moses.

This video is a depiction of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments:

The authors of both The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn effectively use biblical allusion to connect their characters to the motif of testing, and the religious figure of Moses. Hester Prynne is a prime example of God’s consequences for breaking the Ten Commandments, and even though The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is usually seen as a novel for the younger reader, the biblical allusions in the novel relating to Moses and his journey through the desert are plentiful, especially to a reader who knows the basic ideas of some biblical stories.

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This entry was posted in Biblical Allusions, Honors English III, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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