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Biblical Themes in The White Heron, Big Two Hearted River, and other Literature

Updated on May 3, 2013
What I imagine the Garden of Eden looked like.
What I imagine the Garden of Eden looked like. | Source

Genesis 1-4 tells the story of the creation of man, the fall of man and the first sin after the fall. These chapters have influenced the fiction works of many authors over time, including those we read this week. The fall of man in Genesis has become a central, symbolic image in fiction because of the change in the presence of God. When Adam and Eve are convinced by the serpent to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they are exiled from the Garden and God no longer walks among them. Before the original sin is committed, all things are equal in the Garden of Eden. Even God walks among his creations and talks to them directly. After the crime has been committed, he is no longer in their presence.

The crime itself is very important to the narrative. Adam and Eve wanted to become like God, knowing good and evil. Before this, they are innocent. After the fall, they are cast into a world of devastation. This loss of innocence is a common theme in many narratives.

Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” describes a philosophy that men are imprisoned by their senses. Plato values reason and logic more than he values sensory ideals. To compare this allegory to Genesis, the way that God has casted mankind out into the world of devastation,Plato describes that we are living in the world of the physical—a devalued place where we have gained the knowledge of good and evil. In this place, we will struggle to return to glory, innocence. The only way to live justly is to see our ideas as truth.

A White Heron
A White Heron | Source

In A White Heron , the Sylvia has been living in darkness comfortably. Her name in Latin means forest (sylva ), so we know she is comfortable living this lifestyle, yet, when she moves into the light over the course of the story, she has a new experience. She was unified with the forest in the beginning of the story, but, in the end, she becomes enlightened as she stands atop a large tree. Similar to Genesis, this story shows a movement from innocence to knowing.

Ernest Hemingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River” shows the images of fish in the lightness and darkness. The older fish swim in the darker water and drag themselves along the bottom. Contrastingly, the younger fish would stay near the top of the water, in the light. These images may have a symbolic connection to the knowledge in Genesis. The younger fish are more innocent and are lighter, skimming atop the waves, while the older ones are weighted down by their knowledge, their age and their life; they stay in the darkness. Similarly, in Hemingway’s work, “Indian Camp,” the older men are illustrated as very angry.

Though many fiction works, images of the creation and fall of man are prominent. It serves as a important piece of literature that has a major influence on numerous works of art.


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      Derdriu 6 years ago

      BrittanyTodd: Your approach is one which is particularly illustrative and revelatory of eternal and universal themes from the Bible. It serves as an example and proof of the complete package which the Bible represents: it is us and our world in one conveniently accessible place. Your selections from the ancient Greek to the modern is most supportive of that approach.

      Thank you, etc.,