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"Inferno" is the first section of an epic poem, known as Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri written in the 14th century. The allegorical piece of masterpiece literature tells the journey through hell of Dante in basically the medieval perception of hell and what it contained for all following that route. The inferno or hell is depicted as a series of nine circles carrying suffering that are situated within the earth. The poem reflects the journey towards God of the human soul with the recognition of sin and its rejection (Alighieri, 1982). In Dante we see the journey towards selfhood involving the divine destination of human souls.
The story begins a day just before "Good Friday", with Dante at the "halfway along the path of his life", in the year 1300 AD. Dante finds himself at loss in the dark woods facing violent attacks by three beasts; a lion, a she-wolf and a lonza or leopard. He finds himself Unable to avoid these assailants, as it consciously dawns on him that the he has "lost the straight path and the right way" that leads to salvation (Alighieri, 1982). Virgil the roman poet comes to his rescue as a guide and they embark on their "journey to the under world" together. On the journey they see the souls of many who did not commit to anything. Together with them were the outcasts who did not take any side when the ancient angels rebelled against God. They faced the punishment of forever having to pursue their self interest, allegorically presented by the banner, with being pursued and stung at the same time by hornets and wasps. Together with the maggots and the other blood sucking insects, they allegorically reflect the conscience of the human mind and the innate repugnance of sin that should always guide man towards God, which the damned souls ignored in their life on earth (Alighieri, 1982). Dante and the poet are ferried across the Acheron River and into the exact hell, by Charon who at first does not agree to allow the "living" Dante to enter hell. Virgil prevails on Charon by saying," so it is wanted there where the power lies", referring to Dante's journey for divine reflection (Alighieri, 1982). Dante faints along the ferry's journey across the river and only wakes up on the other side. Along the way Dante learns that every man is accountable for his personal sins and will without fail, pay for them in the next life. He further learns that there is no hope of turning back for the soul already destined for hell, just as it is written on the gate, "abandon all hope, ye who enter here" (Alighieri, 1982).
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The "nine circles of suffering" are presented as concentric and increase gradually along the series. They represent the gradual increase of wickedness with each sinner being punished forever according to the level of their wickedness. Each sinner is eternally afflicted and tormented by the primary and main sin of their life on earth. Both Dante and Virgil clearly notice the deep contrast between the souls in hell and those headed to the purgatory; the ones in hell loudly wail in desperate cries of pain while they hear joyful songs of happiness from the souls being ferried towards the purgatory (Alighieri, 1982). All are fairly and justly rewarded according to the deeds in their life, with all souls headed to their "deserved eternal homes" (Alighieri, 1982). Thus is seen the journey of the soul towards eternity with two destination.
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In the first circle Dante meets wise men and philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle, great and renowned poets such as Homer, Ovid and Horace and great leaders such as Julius Caesar. From these he learns the accepting Jesus Christ in the lives of people is important for the salvation of their souls. He learns that even the Christians who are not virtuous in their walk will ultimately find themselves deservedly in hell. The highly esteemed positions of honor and respect, that many desire and long for in this life are not important and would not save a soul except that they accept Christ in their lives (Alighieri, 1982). He and Virgil his poet guide travel through the other circles which are denoted with "the chief sins"; the 2nd (lust), 3rd (gluttony), 4th (greed), 5th (wrath/sullenness), 6th (heresy), 7th (violence), 8th (fraud) and the 9th (treachery), (Alighieri, 1982). Dante in his journey towards selfhood, later realizes and comes to the understanding that the three beasts that assailed him before his journey "represent three types of sin" and are allegorically represented in the division of hell into three main sections of sins; "the sins of self indulgent" (circle 1 to 5), "the sins of violence (circle 6 and 7) and "the sins of malice" (circle 8 and 9). Just as he was assailed by beasts before entering hell, he learns that all people are assailed by sins in their lives and if they give in to the wants of these sins, they definitely will end up in hell (Alighieri, 1982).
Dante learns the severe punishment of the sin of lust from the damned souls of Dido, Helen of troy, Cleopatra, Achilles, Tristan and Paris (Alighieri, 1982). These from the history of their lives were overcome by sensual sins and finally found their way to hell. Dante learns that the seemingly harmless sins such as the two preceding sins together with wrath, glutton, heresy and greed are punishable in hell, regardless of how small and insignificant they seem to many people on earth (Alighieri, 1982). Along the journey, Dante discovers himself and sees the reality of the consequence of human action, his actions. He begins to clearly see himself, in the lives and actions of others.
In his journey towards knowledge of self as a human soul and the destiny that awaits in the after life, Dante and Virgil encounter many truths. Dante learns that every action that a man or woman does on earth have eternal implications (Alighieri, 1982). Human deeds of evil will condemn a soul to eternal suffering befitting their sinful actions, with torments experienced from the main sin committed by the life of the particular person. These are the people who adamantly sought to justify the sins in their life and were unrepentant of them. He learns that there is no hope for soul such as these in hell. Dante now knows the importance of praying for the forgiveness of his sin to God; those he committed knowingly and unknowingly. One ultimate truth he learns is that salvation is hinged on Christ and through Him, sins are forgiven. Dante finally sees himself and his actions in regard to the eternal implication they carry. In discovering the divine truth, he discovers his self, and the meaning that life carries for all people, and himself (Alighieri, 1982).
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In the novel, 'grapes of wrath' by the author John Steinbeck, we see the live of "the Joads" family through a series of events that ensue from their journey towards a new and better life. This is a "family of sharecroppers" with poverty their main challenge and it faces hardships as a result of the great depression and decides to leave Oklahoma for California, where they believe they will have a chance of a better live. Tom Joad, the main character, has just been paroled from prison where he was incarcerated for homicide (Steinbeck, 1992).
After his release and on his way home, Tom meets Jim Casey, a former preacher who he remembers from the days of their childhood. The contrast of their lives shows the different routes of live that people take, as a result of the individual choices and decisions made, regardless of having similar childhood experiences. They decide to travel together on the journey towards Oklahoma. Tom learns that life does not always stay the same and that situations change, as he finds his beloved childhood farm deserted. From the life of Casey, Tom later learns that religion does not offer the much needed solace and relief from the world's trouble and neither does it provide the answers many seek about life's challenges (Steinbeck, 1992).
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After meeting his uncle john Joad, tom learns that the banks were to blame for the tribulations that befell the family. The banks kicked them out and off their land together with all the other farmers due to defaulting on their loans. The farmers on their part depended on the farm produce and with the crops destroyed during the "dust bowl" and their poor state, they had nothing to repay for their loans. Tom sees the banks as "monsters made by man, but that they cannot be controlled by men" (Steinbeck, 1992). He learns that the banks have to "feed on the profits they make from the interests they earn and would die the way we die without air or side meat" (Steinbeck, 1992).
In following his family to California, Joad has to break the parole, but sees that some risks are worth it in life, especially concerning the welfare of the people one loves. He later says it "I know this....that a man is got to do what he got to do" (Steinbeck, 1992). When faced with challenging situations, it all come down to the responsibility placed on the shoulders of the man, and in this case, the shoulders of Tom. In assuming the leadership of the family, he borrows from what he has learnt along the journey, with the realization that, one needs to take responsibility without fear but based on what is right (Steinbeck, 1992).
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On the way to California, Tom and the other members of the Joad family meet many other families, with some arriving discouraging news about the prospects of going to California. Tom is forced to learn to face the challenging notion that the bright future they were all looking forward to may not be promising at all. With the death of the leading member of the family, he assumes the role of the family leader, knowing that leadership belongs to the most involved member of the family, just as Ma Joad had the leadership mantle with her warm spirit and practical way of handling family issues instead of Pa Joad (). From her, Tom learns the virtues and responsibility of holding the family together, that should be espoused by the family leader. He learns to handle the different members of the family separately based on their individual personalities and standing up for the rights of the young and vulnerable ones ensuring that they are treated well (Steinbeck, 1992). As the situations change, Tom Joad gets to see more of the realities of live, and he gradually discovers himself and the changes his perspective of life. He learns the value of bravery, especially when confronted with other challenges, based on the victory over past difficult situations. This is seen as he says, "You can't scare him.....he has known a fear beyond every other" (Steinbeck, 1992).
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Looking at the two characters, Dante and Tom Joad, we see the journey towards self realization that people take, as they seek answers to their life's questions. Both take different paths but end up with the same results; a knowledge on the meaning of life, albeit with different perspectives. Dante gets the spiritual meaning of eternity and the implication of the present earthly life on the same. Tom Joad on the other hand, learns through the interpersonal experiences with other and the meaning these experiences hold to him. Tom learns how to be a man who stands up on what he believes and holds to be true and right. In the end for both characters, we see a change in perceptions about life as they finally come through their journey towards selfhood. To each the meaning of their life is learnt through the journey and is finally revealed as it ends.