The Geography of Butler's Hell

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Matt Whited
Professor Fyfe
Option #5

Final Paper

The geography of each hell and its denizens changes drastically through out the decades, as literature is spread across the world. The earliest piece that I chose to examine was Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which dates back to sometime between 1265 and 1321. I also chose Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1564-1593), Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit (1945) to show the transformation over time. The final piece of literature that I picked, and also found was most compelling, was Robert Olen Butler’s Hell (2009). While all these works of literature relate to the topic of Hell, the time era in which each was written greatly influenced the outcome of each story, as well as the overall moral.

Dante’s Inferno is by far the most important piece of literature in this analysis paper because it shaped and greatly influenced all three other pieces of literature for the years to come. At the time in Dante’s life, previous to when he began his work on the Inferno, the struggle between church and state for authority weighed heavily on the citizens of Florence. Dante was apart of the White Guelphs, who supported the independence of Florence from strict control of the Pope. This would lead him to be exiled from Florence once the Pope was restored his power, and would be the incentive for him to write the Inferno.

Dante references many of his political enemies throughout his journey of the Inferno. He first meets Filippo Argenti, a Black Guelph who believed the Church should have full control of state, in the Fifth Circle of Hell where the Wrathful spend eternity tearing each other to pieces. He then encounters another rival politician, Farinata, in the Sixth Circle of Hell where the Heretics reside. He also references Pope Bonafice VIII in the Eighth Circle of Hell, placing him there for falsely using his power as the Pope to persuade the state. The geography of each circle changes, progressively getting more vile and disgusting, and the punishments for each circle’s denizens gets more severe as they journey through the Inferno.

From examining the organization of each Circle of Hell, it is clear that Dante wrote the Inferno with strict Christian values. He wrote the poem in order to teach and reinforce Christine doctrines, which completely opposes the motives of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Religion played a huge role in everyday life for Dante, as well as politics. Together, it helped Dante formulate a story that centralizes it’s moral on God’s will in Heaven as guidance during the moral life, and his journey through Hell was to see God’s divine justice upon sinners and nonbelievers. This can be inferred by the quote from Cantos III when Dante reads the sign on the gates of Hell that say, ‘JUSTICE IT WAS THAT MOVED MY GREAT CREATOR… ABDONDON EVERY HOPE, ALL WHO ENTER”(Line 7).

Almost four decades after the first publication of Dante’s Inferno, Christopher Marlowe publishes Doctor Faustus, a contrast to the Inferno. Unlike Dante the poet, Marlowe grew up in England during the fifteenth century, when Protestantism was the state-supported religion. Marlowe however, believed in Catholicism, which was a forbidden faith at the time in England. Dante and Marlowe are alike in the fact that their opposition to the state religion of their respective time period would be incentives for their literature.

The story of Doctor Faustus follows the journey of a man who gives up his soul for supernatural powers during his mortal life. Doctor Faustus is unlike any of the other works of literature referenced in this analysis because it takes place during the mortal life on earth. The three other works focus on the afterlife in Hell; whether it may be at the center of the earth, as in the Inferno or stuck in a room like Sartre’s No Exit. The protagonist, Faustus, is a brilliant scholar from Germany whose ambition for knowledge, wealth, and power prove to be his downfall. Both...
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