Sin and Evil

Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature

RONALD PAULSON
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1njjx9
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    Sin and Evil
    Book Description:

    The confusion of sin and evil, or religious and moral transgression, is the subject of Ronald Paulson's latest book. He calls attention to the important distinction between sin and Evil (with a capital E) that in our times is largely ignored, and to the further confusion caused by the term "moral values." Ranging widely through the history of Western literature, Paulson focuses particularly on American and English works of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries to discover how questions of evil and sin-and evil and sinful behavior-have been discussed and represented.The breadth of Paulson's discussion is enormous, taking the reader from Greek and Roman tragedy, to Christian satire in the work of Swift and Hogarth, to Hawthorne's and Melville's novels, and finally to twentieth-century studies of good and evil by such authors as James, Conrad, Faulkner, Greene, Heller, Vonnegut, and O'Brien. Where does evil come from? What are "moral values"? If evil is a cultural construct, what does that imply? Paulson's literary tour of sin and evil over the past two hundred years provides not only a historical perspective but also new ways of thinking about important issues that characterize our own era of violence, intolerance, and war.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13520-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Evil, Sin, and Wrongdoing (pp. 1-33)

    RADICAL EVILIS A TERM we often hear: evil at its root, its ultimate source; fundamental, basic, and essential. (In politics it suggests an extreme, evil of the far left or far right.)Absolute evilis another: perfect, unqualified, pure, and unmixed, without a trace of mitigation. These refer to our rock-bottom definition: harm to another human being. But there are also forms ofaddedcharge: “beyond limits” or “beyond the line,” meaning beyond theacceptable,as in “a strong case could be made that the killing of tens of thousands of civilians within a little more than twentyfour hours,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Classical and Christian Equivalents of Sin and Evil (pp. 34-68)

    The Greek word used to translate the Hebrewchattat(sin) was, we saw,hamartia,referring to the missing of a mark with bow and arrow: a lack of skill, not a morally culpable act. One scholar writes, “Hamartia(error) and its concrete equivalentharmartema(an erroneous act) and the cognate verbhamartaneinseem to connote an area of senses shading in from a periphery of vice and passion to a center of rash and culpable negligence,” and notes “a passage inOedipus at Colonus,ll. 966ff., wherehamartiaandhamartaneinshift in successive lines from the connotation of the voluntary...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Sin and Evil Redefined: The Enlightenment (pp. 69-123)

    Christopher Marlowe, writing in the 1590s, inherited Ovid’s humanism, the insurgency that led to his exile. At King’s School in Canterbury and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he would have had nothing in the curriculum against which to balance the Calvinism of Alexander Nowell’sCatechism, or First Instruction of Christian Religionexcept the classical Latin of the pagan poets, in particular Virgil and Ovid. David Riggs’s biography of Marlowe shows “how fully his work articulates the contradiction, inherent in the educational system that bred him, between Christian selfabnegation and humanist self-empowerment.”¹

    Marlowe’sDoctor Faustus(1590s, publ. 1604) depends upon the dichotomy...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Sin/Evil and the Law: The Novel (pp. 124-160)

    The place to learn morals in this period, as the last chapter suggested, was not the church but the stage (the sinful stage the Puritans closed during the Civil War), and Hogarth extended the stage to his “modern moral subjects,” engravings that were frozen scenes from plays likeThe Beggar’s Operaand Nicholas Rowe’sJane Shore(1714) and George Lillo’sLondon Merchant(1731). In these venues conventional ideas of sin were modified and complicated—and then, above all, rematerialized in the new genre that emerged in the 1720s–40s, the novel.

    A primary source for Fielding’s, as for Hogarth’s, model...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Demonizing of Sin (pp. 161-191)

    At the end of the nineteenth century, in Arthur Machen’s tale of terror and the supernatural “The White People” (1895), a girl is misled by her governess, drawn back into a primitive world of the old gods—back to a powerful atavistic belief in the supernatural, and away, as Machen shows in the introduction to the story, fromA Harlot’s ProgressandOliver Twist.The latter are examples of social evil, the former of “sin.” “The merely carnal, sensual man,” says Machen’s spokesman Ambrose,

    can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint.

    Most of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Demonic and Banal Evil (pp. 192-252)

    How do possession, demonism, and vampires relate to haunting? Le Fanu’s characteristic plot, as in “Green Tea” or even “Carmilla,” is “one in which the protagonist, whether deliberately or otherwise, opens his mind in such a way as to become subject to haunting by a figure which is unmistakably part of his own self.”¹ In contemporary terms, Stephen King’sThe Shining(1977) tells the story of Jack Torrance, whose “beast within,” in the setting of the Overlook Hotel, breaks out and turns him into the croquet mallet–wielding monster in lethal pursuit of his own son. Again, King’s good-natured dog...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Original Evil and the Original Sin (pp. 253-300)

    Hell posed problems that remained to worry the Enlightenment. It was a place where sin was punished with evils, and the evils were imposed by sinners whose punishment included imposing these evils. Post-Reformation hell posed a second problem: punishment that was essentially sinless, or that rested only on the Original Sin. When everyone sinned, there was no sin-directed punishment in hell. Hell was essentially punishment, imposed on those designated sinners who had been denied grace. It was not, however, merely the absence of God; it was vividly burning forever in a fiery furnace.

    This was, of course, the Calvinist hell,...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Modern Sin and Evil (pp. 301-346)

    In the 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I, Ernest Hemingway described inA Farewell to Arms(1929) how Frederic Henry leaves the deathbed of his beloved Catherine Barkley, goes for a walk, and remembers an earlier time:

    Once in camp I put a log on top of the fire and it was full of ants. As it commenced to burn, the ants swarmed out and went first toward the center where the fire was; then turned back and ran toward the end. When there were enough on the end they fell off into the fire. Some got out,...

  12. NOTES (pp. 347-388)
  13. INDEX (pp. 389-403)

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