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Analysis of the Novels: “The Violent Bear It Away” and “The Knot of Vipers”

Francis Tarwater and M. Louis are painted as the protagonist of the two books: “The Violent bears it away” and “The Knot of Vipers”.  Both writings are inspired and written by writers under catholic faith, only that the author in “The Knot of Vipers” allows M. Louis to tell his own story: a curse to his family through a letter which he hoped they would find on his death.

It is worth noting that the author of the book “Violent Bears it Away” derives the title of the book from the Matthew 11:12, “[that from the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bears it away” (Douay Version). Once asked to expound further on the title of the book, she alluded to Thomas Aquinas for reference and argued about the violent Christ talking about the ascetics who strain against mere nature.

In this book, “The Violent Bears it Away”, Francis Tarwater, the protagonist is staged by the author to bring out both the Christian living and the secular world and the struggle involved of trying to live a Christian life, as opposed to the secular one. Francis Water is raised by Mason; an old man who secludes him from the modern world in preparing him for a prophetic life while on the other hand, is his uncle Rayber, who after the death of the Mason, tries to ‘redeem’ Francis of the old man teachings.


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The book has received various interpretations but the most predominant is that the power of destiny surpasses secular living. This is demonstrated after Francis drowned bishop instead of baptizing him, he committed an act considered of the secular world, in addition, the rape that happened to him turned out as a revelation when he decided to rethink his calling yet he went to follow his prophetic mission of saving those who are lost in the world. The second interpretation point out that everything that destroys redeems (New Georgia Encyclopedia). This is illustrated by the drowning of Bishop which happened simultaneously through that secular act, the act of baptism, which was Tarwater mission. On the other hand, Tarwater is raped, but this only opens his eyes on his destiny which is to save the lost.

In common parlance, the authors bring out religious passion through TarWater which uncle Rayber is determined to destroy; however, his destiny to pursue religion over the modern world prevails over his uncle’s ambitions. The authors of “The Violent Bear It Away” brings out clearly how religious destiny overcomes the secularity by having Tarwater pulled between two worlds and in his confusion, destiny overcomes the inner voice that led him to do secular acts and his uncles ambitions, and he is eventually redeemed.

On the other hand, in the novel “The Knot of Vipers”, the author through a letter written by Louis allows him to narrate his own story. Louis writes a letter to his family who harbored him much because of being Christian yet sinner, particularly alludes to his son Hubert, making ‘a flamboyant sign of the cross’ (Francois Mauriac). Unlike the novel, “The Violent Bear It Away” where the protagonist, TarWater struggles between religious passion and secularism, Louis lives in the secular world and resists Christianity (the Catholic Church), however, he brings out how Christianity has been tainted with sin through his relatives.

The author achieves to bring out the picture he intends to portray Christianity because his character tells his own story living with ‘sinners at the heart of Christianity’.

The author concerns himself with sin, greed, materialism and the extent that his Christian relations were willing to go for property which has resulted in failure of a good relationship within the family setting unlike in the novel “The Violent Bears it away” where family is divided by ideology. In “The Violent Bear It Away”, Mason wanted to turn his family to staunch Christians, nevertheless Rayber wanted to move Tarwater away from Mason’s ideology of asceticism. Though, it is important to note some similarities in both stories. Tarwater who represents a struggle between both religion and secularism signifies Louis’s relatives to some extent, in particular, where he commits secular acts such as drowning Bishop. Rayber’s son in the name of baptism would taint Christianity with sin of Louis’s relatives only that he would receive grace and redemption towards the end of the novel and follow his prophetic calling.

In the novel, “The Knots of Vipers”, the knots of vipers tend to first appear to be Louis’s relatives, yet the knots of vipers are the uncertainty and struggles in Louis’s heart which are well-reflected in his writing which took into account flash backs, but at the same time change of heart from since he started writing the letter until he almost came to a conclusion. He intended to write the letter to his wife and children and they could only find it on his death. However, as he continued writing, he thought that he needed to let them know how he felt, and he even thought of their different reaction such as them asking for his forgiveness, him asking for their forgiveness and he even thought of them forgiving each other and praying together. The theme of redemption and grace is brought out when Louis is about to die and he thinks of his daughter Marie before her death and he reflects:

I had shut my ears so as not to hear Marie’s words as she lay dying. Nevertheless, at her bedside the secret of death and of life had been revealed to me… A little girl had been dying for me.

Simeone Weils while referring to the above statement and the theme of redemption and grace, posits that Christianity’s extreme greatness does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but rather a supernatural use of it.

But as all this thoughts ran through his mind, he overheard his children conspiring to commit him, and he suddenly had a change of heart (Francois Mauriac). He decides to look for his illegitimate son Robert, whom he would bequeath all his wealth and disinherit his family which was precisely their fear (Francois Mauriac). Notably, though he is bitter and full of hatred, he regrets the emptiness in his heart and life in general and he says to himself at one point, “I know my heart and it is a knot of vipers” (Francois Mauriac). All these changes by the sudden death of his wife Isa, whom Louis laments for having died not knowing him and at this point he hands over his fortune to his family and by doing so, the ‘knot’ in his heart unties’. The handing over of the fortune to his family symbolizes the relief of his heart off the vipers since the knot of vipers in his heart were as a result of the fortune he held for the family (Mauriac 42). At this moment, Louis receives grace and redemption, and he is at peace with himself.

It is interesting noting that in the two books: ‘The Violent Bear It Away” and “The Knot of Vipers”, the authors use people to channel grace and redemption for others. Tarwater receives grace from the death of Bishop when he reflects upon his call. On the other hand, Louis receives grace and redemption when he reflects on his daughter’s Marie’s death and his wife Isa, and he discovers ‘secret of death and of his life’ (Francois Mauriac), and he realizes that his daughter died for him. A biblical analysis may compare the two novels with the Christ on the cross who died in order mankind may be forgiven and live a righteous life. It would be therefore correct to point that the themes of both books are drawn from the death of Christ for mankind.

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