Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jesus, a carpenter and cross-maker, the son of Mary and the carpenter Joseph. A troubled youth, full of fear and rebelliousness, and tormented by “vulture claws” seemingly sent from God, he is also possessed by a strong pity for humanity. Continually tempted to be something other than who he really is, he grows as he journeys from home to the monastery, where he loses much of his guilt, and turns to preaching love to the people. Later, his trials and visions in the desert convince him that the rotten tree of the world must be felled by ax and fire. Eventually, he becomes obsessed by death, knowing that his own is necessary. When he awakes from his final nightmare of a compromised life and finds himself on the cross, he is filled with a hero’s joy.
Judas Iscariot, a blacksmith. Committed to the cause of Israel and a member of the fierce Zealots, he can kill and, in fact, is commissioned to kill Jesus. He hesitates because he suspects that Jesus may be the One. A man of action who challenges and finally comes to love the man of contemplation, Jesus, he is the only disciple with the necessary endurance to assist the Messiah in his sacrificial death.
Mary, the wife of Joseph of Nazareth and the mother of Jesus. Past her youth, she continually grieves because of the agitation her paralytic husband and possessed son cause her. Preoccupied with her own pain, she...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
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The Characters (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Kazantzakis is at his most daring in his portrayal of characters in this novel. Drawing almost exclusively on biblical narratives, he transforms the participants in the drama of Christ’s life and passion into men and women who possess twentieth century intellectual and psychological attributes. The format of the novel allows him to expand the sparse accounts found in the Gospels and thereby achieve a certain complexity of characterization. As a result, the main figures in The Last Temptation of Christ appear to be more human than they do in the Bible—a quality that directly contributes to the controversy that has surrounded the novel since its original publication.
No character is more humanized than the hero of the work, Jesus. From the reader’s first meeting with the young carpenter of Nazareth, Jesus is presented as a man uncertain of his future, afraid of the demands that God is placing on him, unsure if he is being called to greatness or simply being tempted by the Devil to commit the greatest of sins, that of pride. He also is tempted by desires of the flesh: The scene in which Jesus confronts his cousin Mary Magdalene in her home in Magdala, where she entertains male travelers, is overtly sensuous, forcing the reader to see how voluptuous the young woman can be and how much effort it takes for Jesus to resist her. It is Kazantzakis’ special strength that he is able to present Jesus as a human being without appearing to be...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Drawn from the Bible, Kazantzakis's characters are often like their scriptural counterparts in name only. Interested in using the story of Jesus as a means of exploring the human predicament, Kazantzakis takes great pains to humanize these men and women. As a result, he attributes great sensual appetites to many of these figures, including Jesus, whose struggle to put aside temptations of both the flesh and spirit is the subject of the work. The reader also meets a very different Judas Iscariot, a strong "man who must betray Christ in order for Christ to redeem man; a changed Blessed Virgin Mary, who hopes her son will abandon notions of being a sacrificial savior in order to marry and give her grandchildren; a cowering, self-centered group of apostles. While Kazantzakis does little to explore the psychology of these characters in detail, his portraits are strikingly lifelike, albeit dramatically different from what the reader expects to encounter.
(The entire section is 155 words.)