Christ Figures: Styles of American Literature at a Crossroads



Michelangelo’s Pietà: A sculpture in the Vatican depicting Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion

The basis of the crucifixion motif in American literature is in the creation of a Christ figure through physical or social sacrifice. Such sacrifice can be seen in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter when Hester Pryne is forced to stand atop scaffolding for three hours while dawning the scarlet A. Hester is made an exile in society for, like Christ, the sins of others. Although Dimmesdale is equally culpable for Pearl’s birth out of wed lock, Hester alone feels the consequences. Pearl’s acceptance into affluent society after Hester’s death is another example of how Hester’s societal sacrifice, similar to Christ’s, benefitted those whom she looked after during her lifetime. In the realm of realism, the crucifixion is seen in Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck claims he is going to hell for choosing to help Jim escape slavery. In this case, Huck not only refers to the biblical hell, but also to the possibility that he will be condemned by society for choosing a morally unpopular, but personally just course of action. In doing so, Huck submits to the possibility of cultural sacrifice, in order to fight for the oppressed.  Crucifixion is seen in modernism in Earnest Hemingway’s story, The Old Man and the Sea, when Santiago carries his own mast into town after his fight with the Marlin. The fisherman’s bloodied hands and cross carrying are obvious examples of bible imagery. By having Santiago’s physical state mirror Christ’s state on the cross, Hemingway broadens the meaning of his story to biblical proportion, and intensifies Santiago’s struggle with the Marlin. By including Christ figures in their work, American authors of many styles create tension by connecting their characters’ sacrifices to the greatest literary sacrifice of all time: the crucifixion.


This entry was posted in AP Mindset, Biblical Allusions 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Christ Figures: Styles of American Literature at a Crossroads

  1. vaughnrogers says:


    I enjoyed your post, especially with the clever puns sprinkled in, such as “Hemingway broadened… to biblical proportion…” literally. Your insightful allusions to the Bible did a great job comparing crucifixion on the cross with the effects of societal crucifixion, as you analyzed in Huck Finn. In The Scarlet Letter did Hester ever see public praise after acceptance of her sin, or is this an area in which she differs from Christ? Honestly, the post is already very good, but if I had any suggestion it would be to add in a few supporting quotes. Also, if you could find any other images to implement they would not hurt.

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