Literature is one of the ways to express thoughts related to a particular issue or discuss people’s perspectives on it. Throughout all history of humanity, individuals have been trying to express their emotions and feelings by using the power of the word. Written texts, as the first potent tool to familiarize nations with various concepts, became a potent tool to impact society and trigger vigorous debates. That is why it is not surprising that the most relevant topics peculiar to communities at various periods of time were discussed by authors in their books. Religion has always been one of the most important elements of people’s lives, as it impacted their motifs and actions. For this reason, this theme often appears in various pieces of literature to cogitate about the exiting problems or perspectives on faith. The works Ceremony, Desert Solitaire, and Death Comes for the Archbishop also have religious motifs that are introduced to trace the role religion plays in persons’ lives and all changes they undergo in their life.
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All the selected novels are devoted to different people and actions, as they are created with different purposes. However, they all have some similar elements that result from the attempts to show the existence of various religious themes in many aspects of people’s living regardless of the environment, context, and events that shape their mentalities and actions. The given idea is not new; however, it still remains topical because of the relevance of religion. All authors try to engage in discussion with the audience by offering the idea that faith is one of the central factors driving society and individuals living in it. For this reason, the analysis of these books through the prism of religion can help to understand some essential elements of these stories and the role this issue plays in storytelling and plot.
Approaches to Religion
Speaking about Ceremony by Leslie Mormon Silko, one should say that religion plays an obviously important role in this novel. It is devoted to the life and problems of Tayo, a half-Pueblo, half-white Laguna Pueblo man who has just returned from the WWII and has a severe post-traumatic disorder which complicates his life and poses multiple questions about his future (Silko 11). The unusual storytelling of the book combines many timelines that help the author to show all existing problems and ask questions about the life of people deprived of their culture because of the contact with the modern reality.
The spiritual timeline with the Spider Woman touches upon the problem of faith and religion that arise in terms of culture. In general, the past of these people and their faith is all they have “I will tell you something about stories…They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death” (Silko 45) These words show that religion of this nation is not just words, it still plays a critical role in their lives; however, many start to forget its real meaning, which results in the collapse of their world. “You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories” these words perfectly show the author’s attitude to religion expressed by the character of the novel (Silko 65). Stories represent people’s beliefs and faith and should be considered to avoid problems with self-determination and life purpose.
As for Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, the story also raises some questions related to religion and its plays in the life of people. The story revolves around bishop Jean Marie Latour and father Joseph Vaillant who have the important task of reinvigorating the Catholic Church in the region and increase of its power. The problem is that for many centuries, this religion has been disregarded on these lands. In such a way, faith serves as the main setting for the whole story. From the beginning, local beliefs are shown as something that comes from ignorance “Untaught and unshepherded, they cling to the faith of their fathers” (Cather). It preconditions the clash of cultures and perspectives on faith. The idea that “after all, these people have had their own beliefs and customs for thousands of years” becomes central to show that individuals who have their own ideas cannot accept new ones in a single day (Cather). Additionally, the refusal of the traditional beliefs might mean degradation and decline which is emphasized in the story.
Finally, speaking about Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, it should be said that the book differs from the previous two. It can be described as a set of autobiographical stories devoted to the author’s experiences gained while working as a park ranger. That is why there are many descriptions of nature, animals, climate, and landscapes peculiar to the area where he worked. However, it also helps to touch upon the themes of spirituality and our past that can also be associated with religion. He states that “wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread” (Abbey 45). In such a way, the author draws a parallel between our faith, past, existence, and the way we live. It becomes an important comparison as “a civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins” (Abbey 55). In such a way, the author is sure that religion, or spirituality, is closely related to nature as the representation of our past and future that should be protected.
From these cogitations one can see that all these three stories have one similar element that is touched upon by the authors in their attempts to attract people’s attention. It is spirituality, or religion, as one of its forms that impact people’s actions and their motifs. Abbey, Cather, and Silko show their perspectives on this topic and how it affects individuals and shapes their lives. It remains a critically important issue ensuring the connection with the past and providing visions of the future. At the same time, beliefs form the value system and the main characters’ responses to various threats or problems. In these novels, people face the challenge of the deterioration of religion and its gradual decline, which is dangerous for their survival and future life. In such a way, the discussed theme becomes significant for the development of plot and improved understanding of heroes’ motifs.
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However, it should be said that despite the similarity of the utilization of religious motifs, there are still some differences in the approaches books take to faith. In Ceremony, the author homologates spirituality, past stories, and beliefs with religion: “as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together” (Silko 67). Emphasizing the past of individuals, the author also shows that it is an integral part of their set of values and beliefs, that is religion, and that impacts their future significantly. The approach utilized by Silko helps to understand the gap that emerges between cultures because of the disregard of their faith.
As for Cather’s approach, it is also different from other stories. The author directly shows the clash of religions and the important role they play in the life of the main characters. For instance, by saying that “the Passion of Jesus became for him the only reality”, Cather emphasizes the importance of faith, and, at the same time, the inability of the Bishop to accept other perspectives. In the novel, the traditional approach to religion is opposed to some other phenomena that can also be sacred: “Where there is great love there are always miracles” (Cather), which is important for the understanding of the true nature of people’s feelings, beliefs and values. Utilizing this different approach, the author shows the opposition between some popular perspectives on faith and the traditional views of other peoples who try to protect them.
Finally, in Desert Solitaire, nature becomes the embodiment of people’s spiritual side of their lives. In such a way, Abbey draws a parallel between wilderness and people’s system of value, emphasizing the fact that its destruction will mean the elimination of the spiritual background of the human nation and its inability to recover (56). From this perspective, religion, as a reflection of our spirituality, becomes deteriorated by our activity aimed at the destruction of natural landscapes, disregard of some other traditional beliefs, and elimination of animals. Adhering to this very approach, the author manages to sound especially convincing as he utilizes his own experiences and potent views of nature. This approach is different from the previous ones; however, it does not mean that it becomes weaker as it helps to convey the main Abbey’s message.
Altogether, all three discussed stories have different plots and discuss various events in the life of the main characters. At the same time, they are united by the fact that authors try to utilize religious motifs with the primary purpose to attract readers’ attention to the problem of spirituality, traditions, and the gradual deterioration of their approach to faith. The main character of Ceremony suffers from the isolation and detachment from his native culture and traditional belief. The archbishop faces other people’s unwillingness to accept the only religion he considers to be a true one. The main character of Desert Solitaire experiences destruction of nature as the sign of corrupted spirituality. Utilizing different approaches, the authors manage to show the existence of a wide scope of various problems that pose a threat to the further evolution of human society because of the gap in their true or native perspectives on the world and those dictated by society. For this reason, religion plays a critical role in all these books as a potent tool to make people think about the discussed problems and find their own attitudes to faith.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Ballantine Books, 1981.
Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop. Alfred A. Knopf, 1927. Project Gutenberg Australia.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. Penguin Books, 1986.