Discuss how Dante’s notion of sin and redemption is played out in Inferno.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary focus of the Inferno is the notion of sin.  Redemption in the form of Beatrice or Jesus is not readily evident. Since Dante and Virgil progress through the intense nature of transgression, neither one of these transformative figures of redemption are even mentioned after the second Canto.  For Dante, sin is the direct result of human transgression against God's will and the ability to understand the nature of sin.  Accordingly, the inhabitants of the early circles are victims to their appetites, while the subsequent circles feature individuals who increase in malice.  The final circles of the underworld are inhabited by those who commit fraud, " since fraud belongs exclusively to man, / God hates it more and, therefore, far below, / the fraudulent are placed and suffer most" (XI, ll.25-27).  

In Dante's mind, not all sin is the same.  The configuration of the Infernois reflective of the complex and intricate nature of sin.  Dante sees the brutality of the Underworld as needed.  He views sin and transgression as the result of rejecting the world of the divine.  If any of the transgressors had come to God and asked for forgiveness, Dante sees them as being forgiven.  They are condemned to eternal suffering in the underworld because they failed to take God in their hearts and souls.  Here again, one sees how Dante constructs sin as something within human beings, but also something that human beings can avoid if they wish to do so.

It is in this light where Dante's understanding of redemption is evident.  Redemption is not found in the Inferno.  It cannot be found because the people who are condemned have not taken the presence of the divine.  Redemption is only present through the acknowledgement of transgression and paying the price for such action.  Sources of redemption like Beatrice and Jesus Christ are not in the Inferno.  The conclusion to the Inferno has Virgil and Dante poised for redemption as they look to the "stars."  The ability for human beings to not be chained to their condition as mortals and envision a transcendence within them that makes them more than mortal is where redemption lies.  After the voyage through the varied and intricate nature of transgression, the hope for redemption becomes an element that can be realized.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dante's Inferno is structured around the idea of sin and punishment. He visits the nine circles of Hell and learns what each group of sinners has done and how his/her eternal punishment reflects his/her sins. Dante himself is not dead yet, so he hasn't been assigned a circle of Hell. He is simply "taking a tour," but the purpose of this journey is for him to learn the dangers and consequences of sin so he will be motivated to redeem himself and earn a spot in Heaven.

Dante beings in the "Dark Wood of Error," which symbolizes how he has fallen off "the straight road" to Heaven. He has been tempted (represented by the three beasts) and has not been strong enough to overcome those temptations. Virgil appears and offers to be his guide through Hell, and the two proceed to the Vestibule of Hell. They witness the sinners, who are being symbolically punished for their wrongdoings on Earth. At the end of this arduous journey, Dante's character must literally climb over Satan to get to Purgatory. This shows how sin and evil present obstacles that a sinner must overcome to earn redemption.

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Dante's Inferno

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