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Elliston And Friends Need Repentance, Not Serpents

1141 words - 5 pages

Elliston and Friends Need Repentance, Not Serpents

Interesting characters emerge from literature in the 19th century. Some are consumed with physical deformities, others motivated by sin, and even others persuaded by evil. Roderick Elliston, the main character of “Egotism; or, the Bosom Serpent,” possesses all these qualities, making him a complex character. Other authors shared similar ideas about the meticulous and careful creation of literary characters, including Mary Shelley who thought along the same lines. Hawthorne, as well as in “Egotism,” created characters with similar traits in some of this other works.

Roderick Elliston is a character that is full of detail. ...view middle of the document...

Both authors created the same ghastly characters to create an eerie effect. It worked.
Both Shelley and Hawthorne shared another aspect of creating these characters – having society view them as possessors of evil. For example, Roderick knows that he is seen as an evildoer. While preaching on the street he encounters a society member, professing what he knows the man thinks: “All pure and wholesome? No reptile there? By my faith and conscience, and by the devil within me, here is a wonder! A man without a serpent in his bosom!” (“Egotism” 785). Here Roderick says that evil resides within him, with evil being part of the word devil. Frankenstein’s monster is no exception. He exacerbates evil. In this passage he is speaking, announcing his blackness: “Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear . . . I do swear inextinguishable hatred” (Shelley 98). With these sadistic, hateful, evil actions, these characters cannot deny the evil within themselves.

These particular characteristics are some that can identify literary characters of the 19th century. But there are other character traits that Roderick shares with other literary figures. Less than five years later, Hawthorne develops similar qualities in his most famous characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, in The Scarlet Letter. Roderick, Hester, and Arthur all share the same device given to them by Hawthorne – a symbol in the middle of their chest suggesting moral deterioration. This device, the symbol in the middle of the chest, is limited mainly to Hawthorne’s characters; yet, its impact is very poignant. Roderick is a victim of Hawthorne’s punishment, having an “enormous green reptile” (“Egotism” 788) in his bosom “—the type of each man’s fatal error, or hoarded sin, or unquiet conscience, and striking his sting so unremorsefully into the sorest spot . . .” (789). Roderick is imprisoned with his own guilt (the serpent) striking him in the sorest spot imaginable to a human, the heart. Although Hawthorne does not specifically state what he is suffering from, it is suggested that it was “a canker of the mind gradually eating, as such cankers do, from his moral system into his physical frame (783). Moral deterioration is symbolically bore upon his breast.

Hester Prynne suffers from the...

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