The Slyness of Serpents in Stories

No matter what kind of literature you read, you can never escape biblical allusions. The Bible has proved to be, throughout decades of literature, an archetype for all works. Whether biblical terms slither their way into the story is based on one from the Bible, the connection is there. One iconic story touched upon in most works of American Literature is the temptation behind the serpent in the story of the Garden of Eden. Two prime examples of the prominence of the serpent from the Garden of Eden within American works of literary merit are in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The serpent in the Garden of Eden is a story from the Book of Genesis and is a fairly common passage to incorporate into writing. When asked why she disobeyed God, Eve replied, “the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” this serpent shows, at this point of the Bible, the first thing that went against God’s wishes and was arguably more powerful (The Hebrew Bible, Genesis 3:13). Another important aspect of how the Bible describes the serpent is as “subtle”, alluding to the fact that the serpent could be in the form of any sly devil in a work (The Hebrew Bible, Genesis 3:1). Using this type of a ‘subtle’ appearance of the serpent in literature, a perfect example would be Young Goodman Brown. During Brown’s time in the woods, he encounters a man with a staff that has a serpent on the top of it, “his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent” (Hawthorne, Paragraph 13). This figure resembles the devil by the end of his journey, similar to how the serpent in the bible alludes to the devil. This serpent is an ultimate form of temptation in his life as Brown entered the woods as someone who was faithful and had good in his life. By the end of his journey, after being tempted by his form of the devil, he no longer has that faith and learns to push away those close to him. Another interpretation of a snake is in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck puts a snake in Jim’s bed. Huck places the evil snake in Jim’s path, just as the actual devil once placed the evil snake in Eve’s path. In this example, Huck inadvertently becomes, in a sense, the devil through his subconscious beliefs of father figures. Huck is tempted, by the serpent he sees, to treat Jim just as the other father figures he has had and tries to harm them before they can hurt him by letting them in. Huck is successful in his attempt in harming Jim and transforms himself into somewhat of an evil character by feeling the need to hurt Jim, even though he has been there for Huck when needed. Twain’s use of the serpent is a key element in the character development between Huck, Jim and the devil inside. In relation to the bigger picture, temptation is a natural setting to fall into both in literature and real life. Henceforth, the reader cannot blame the characters for failing to be strong when introduced to the devil. But rather, Hawthorne and Twain can be understood to have insightfully used this innate fluctuation between good and bad as a way for the character to be relatable.

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1 Response to The Slyness of Serpents in Stories

  1. 20cc19 says:

    This post is very insightful, making various connections to diverse American literary works. These references allow the readers to more deeply comprehend the biblical motif of the serpent as well as make an intriguing connection to seemingly different stories. I also enjoyed the language you used like “slither” to portray your message while connecting to your motif. Good work! Moreover, I was wondering what you think about the appearance of the snake? It is not a friendly, cute appearing animal so what do you think leads people to take its poor advice? Furthermore, I think one aspect you could add to improve your blog post would be to write about how these temptations appear in the real world. Temptations are rarely in the form of a snake, thus mentioning a few real examples could help your argument that Hawthorne and Twain incorporate the snake to make the characters relatable.

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