The Inferno Essay, Research Paper
The Inferno, written by Dante, is a poem that deals with the afterlife. It deals
with the ideas that actions and practices taken up in this life will determine the
punishment or salvation attained in the next. In the poem, Dante describes circles of hell
of which these levels are assigned according to the severity of the sinner. Dante uses
setting to display the different circles and further exemplify the ironic qualities
associated with the damnation of the sinner. Various characters are also used to display
the different levels of sin and also to point out individual sinners that Dante sees as the
most severe. Dante displays to the reader a story of damnation and, through the use of
setting, irony and useful characters, allows the reader to fully comprehend and relate to
Major theme of this poem illustrates that the things one does in life shall hurt that
person in death. Blasphemers and sinners alike commit sins against god and do not
worry for their damnation does not occur in the present but seemingly far off in death.
The Inferno displays to the reader the reality that their sins will someday come back to
damn them. Examples of this can be seen in the circles of hell. Worse the sin, the worse
the damnation in hell. Through various characters Dante illustrates this eternal suffering
received for mistakes in life. Dante uses various literary devices like allegory and irony
to display the sinners and the damnation they receive for their specific sins.
Dante’s Inferno illustrates irony in setting, such that there are no second chances
in life. Through symbolism, representation, and physical details Dante establishes irony,
yet also reinforces his theme.
Symbolism in relation to the setting exhibits the nature of Dante to be very ironic
in some cases. For example, throughout Dante’s Inferno, Dante makes many direct
references to the light and the heavens: “Therefore, if you win through this gloomy pass
and climb again to see the heaven of stars when it rejoices to you . . .” (145). These
references reveal the irony that none of the inhabitants of hell can ever see the light of
God or will always remind of the light and the choice they made. Dante infers that in hell
you will constantly reminded of the path you chose not to take. Last illustration of
symbolism in Dante’s Inferno is the creatures of hell. Dante’s creatures of hell disclose
their symbolism in the guarding of the different circles of hell. For example the
Minotaur, once a great beast who guarded many, is now guardian of circle seven and will
forever remind him of his sins on earth due to the fact his is the guardian of those who
can never escape and his presence is a struggle of unending hell. Dante’s Inferno, a
detailed description of sin and its relationship to degrees of punishment. Example
identified in the story reads, “…for the face was reversed on the neck, and they came on
backwards, staring backwards at their loins for to look before them was forbidden.” This
quote describes the punishment for fortunetellers. In life the fortunetellers foresaw the
future, while in death they are doomed to exist with their heads on backwards and their
eyes overflowing with tears so that not only could they not see what happened in front of
them, but they could not see at all due to overflowing amounts of tears. Similarly, each
sin had its own logical punishment, and each group of sinners received the same
punishment, with only a few exceptions. Such an exception, found in Canto XXlll, when
Caiaphas lies crucified on the floor while the other hypocrites walk around him in circles.
He becomes set apart because he counseled Roman to crucify Jesus. Sinners of hell in
The Inferno exemplify the notion that the sin you committed on earth becomes also the
punishment you shall receive in hell. This notion, the basis of the irony, that what you
could not live without on earth becomes the root for your damnation in hell. For example,
in The Inferno Dante’s circles of hell have punishments for each of the sins committed
and for such sins, as lust, the violators of this sin are bound together in all eternity never
able to contact with the flesh only the mind: “Love, which permits no loved one not to
love, took me so strongly with delight in him that we are one in Hell, as we were above.
Love led us to one death” (61). Other examples of Dante’s punishment for sinners are the
suicides living in hell as trees. This depicts the sin that because on earth they mistreated
their bodies and harmed their bodies they are denied human form in the afterlife.
Each direct physical setting of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno show a unique
atmosphere that raises the level of irony. For example, in the third circle of hell, the
gluttons, the characters Dante and Virgil see themselves in “gigantic garbage dump” (78).
Punished are forced to live in this garbage dump in a setting or atmosphere they never
could stand on earth. Another instance of ironical atmosphere, the silence that constantly
maintained throughout Limbo. In all the other circles of hell there is constant reference to
the wailing and ugly noise of hell; yet, in Limbo like those who could not decide, the
noise neither happy or sad. Setting reinforces the theme that the irony of the sin
committed will become the punishment received. This can become realized when Dante
stated, What I was living, the same I now, dead (109). Through the symbolism,
representation, and physical details Dante exhibited the essence of the meaning of irony.
Through this irony, readers can both identify and understand with the work.
While the sinners represent man’s imperfections, Virgil symbolizes human reason.
Throughout the poem, Virgil uses logic and reason to convince the monsters to allow him
to gain passage to the various circles of Hell. Use of characters and mentors distinctly
seen in the piece and used to display the theme. There are numerous characters in the
Inferno. Sinners are arranged in a hierarchy. In each group of sinners, Dante distinguishes
a few characters. Virgil acts as Dante’s mentor and guide, leading him through the
intricate levels of Hell. Although Virgil is Dante’s mentor, Dante, himself, acts as a
mentor for some of the souls in Hell. He informs them as to what happens in the land of
the living. Sinners also function as mentors by telling Dante about themselves, their sins
and about Hell. Sinners have experienced life outside of Hell, and are curious about it.
Dante criticizes the world this way from a religious perspective. In Dante’s
Inferno, Dante specifically criticizes believers of Judaism and Islam. Dante criticizes
these religions because of his loyalty to Christianity. Example of this when Dante meets
Mohammed and gruesomely describes him: “Between his legs all of his red guts hung
with the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder, and the shriveled sac that passes shit
to the bung.
I chose the Deconstruction criticism for this play. One the surface, this work can
become realized as an interesting story about a journey through hell. If one breaks down
the characters and the setting one can realize the religious message and ironic theme sent:
that what one does in this life will meet him in the next. By breaking the piece down you
can identify differences in punishments and circumstances and become more aware of
the theme which is attempted to get across.