Christ Figures in American Literature

Of all Biblical allusions to use, the Christ figure motif is an excellent way of creating a powerful protagonist. Though Christ figures might share similarities, eras of American literature show that Christ figures can be incredibly diverse. Hester from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a Christ figure, despite her obvious sins. As part of her punishment, she stood on the scaffold to be mocked for three hours, as Jesus was crucified for three days. The number three and exposure are significant similarities between these two. Edna from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening had a different experience than Hester. She had her own last supper, inviting twelve friends to a dinner party just before she commits suicide. Though she sins like Hester, her action of gathering friends before death still alludes to Jesus. A final Christ figure of modernism would be Joy from Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” First, Joy is tempted by Manly and his advances before she learns of his true nature, just as Jesus is tempted by the devil. She is then trapped on her own scaffold, much like Hester. She then watches Manly leave, walking across what Joy sees as a lake-as though Manly is a Christ figure as well, though not a positive one. All these characters are incredibly different, but they are linked by traits and actions that allude to Jesus. Together, they represent the Christ figures that can be found in eras of American literature.

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