Religion features prominently as a theme in literature. In fact, some of the earliest works of literature are rooted in their religious and cultural traditions, including the ancient literatures of the Middle East and Mesopotamia.
As the role of religion in society changed, so too did the role of religion in literature.
Modern literature, including work by Nathaniel Hawthorne, often offers scathing critiques of religion, whereas postmodern literature allows religion to play a more complex role in shaping individual identity.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter heavily criticizes the role of religion in a patriarchal society, whereas Yann Martel's Life of Pi presents religion more as a subjective phenomenon, revealing an important cultural shift from religion to spirituality.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, the author shows how religion becomes a tool of social oppression and political control.
A. Hawthorne shows that religious authorities are hypocritical, and especially fundamentalists, as the Puritans in the novel do not practice what they preach (Mills).
B. Hester Prynne is the heroine of the novel because she liberates herself from the patriarchal constraints of Puritanism (Gilligan)
III. In Yann Martel's Life of Pi, the author shows how religion is a psychological salve for people in times of stress.
"Life of Pi attempts not to prove God's existence, but to justify belief in Him," (Stratton 6).
B. Religion requires the act of faith, which is more important than the doctrinal aspects of the religion.
1. "Religion arises from a perceptual strategy by which we contrive to alleviate our perpetual uncertainty -- or doubt, or disbelief," (Cole 33).
C. Belief in God and prayer are universal human impulses, which is why Pi believes all faiths are equally as valid.
1. In fact, Martel shows that faith and a "journey toward enlightenment" can be secular activities (Stewart 41)
V. Hawthorne does not address the connection between religion and personal spirituality, just as Yann Martel does not address the connection between religion and political oppression. Taken together, these two novels demonstrate how the art of literature can convey strikingly different facets of the same subject. These books show also how concepts of religion change over time, even within the same cultural context.
Cole, Stewart. "Believing in Tigers: Anthropomorphism and Incredulity in Yann Martel's Life of Pi." SCL. Vol 29, No. 2, 2004.
This article provides an astute analysis of the role of faith…
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