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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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Why does Dante use himself as a character? You have
probably seen this form before, where a narrator will tell the
story of a journey or a struggle that he took part in after the
journey is finished. Joseph Conrad used it in a lot of his
works. Jonathan Swift used it in Gulliver's Travels. What it
allows is perspective. The reader gets a blow-by-blow account
of the trip, with the added benefit of a narrator who has had
time to think it over, analyze it, and make sense of it. The
reader gets to watch the same character both as an often naive
observer-participant and as an older, wiser narrator who can
offer insight and meaning.

Dante has a journey to undertake in the Divine Comedy-he
has to walk the entire universe, no less. Like the rest of us,
Dante has to have a reason to start on his journey. In Canto I,
he finds himself lost in the Dark Wood. And he is lost because
he hasn't been paying attention to where he was going. Dante
is more than physically lost. He is spiritually a soul who has
wandered from the right road: Dante is a sinner, under the
influence of one of the Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Pride

2. Envy

3. Wrath

4. Acedia

5. Avarice

6. Gluttony

7. Lust

Dante is guilty of the middle one, acedia. Some dictionaries
give "sloth" or "laziness" as a meaning for acedia, but it is
more than physical laziness. Acedia is moral laziness, inertia
of the soul and will.

What is the best way to overcome laziness? Right-do
something. Dante must compensate for his laziness by making
the journey.

Through Dante's journey, we can see Dante's concept of sin.
For him, all sin is basically a freezing of the will against love
and grace of God. Some readers have compared this freezing
of the will to an addiction, where the addict so craves his drug,
his gambling, or his cigarette, that he has lost all will to stop.
He also can't see-or doesn't want to see-the self-destructive
path he is on.

Because Dante's specific sin is acedia, he must actively pursue
the right way, the way to heaven and God. We find out as
soon as Dante begins that this will not be an easy journey. It
will require a DEVOUT LABOR. It won't be enough to desire
the goal; he must make an effort of the will, every step along
the way.

In the Inferno, Dante the traveler is a sleepy bumbler-not a
fool exactly, but a man in need of a great deal of supervision
and instruction. Why would the author use himself like this?

Dante the pilgrim is the image of every sinner struggling to
understand the nature of sin, the potential for sin within the
human spirit, and the result of choosing sin. In this role, we
watch Dante struggle to make the physical, intellectual, and
spiritual commitments necessary to complete the journey. We
watch the change from an ignorant and lazy Dante in the
journey to the divinely inspired (so some claim) narrator who
has completed it.

Through the change, we see not only the range and complexity
of the trip through Hell and sin, but the way through. If Dante
can do it, so can we.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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