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Crispin begins the story ashamed of who he is: an illegitimate son of an impoverished widow. Almost immediately after his mother's death, he is accused of theft and proclaimed a wolf's head by the village steward, John Aycliff. Against every wish in his body, Crispin is propelled into the shady world of conspiracies and controversies surrounding inheritances. The lord of the village, Lord Furnival, is soon to die, and he will leave a power vacuum in his place.

As the son of Lord Furnival (albeit illegitimate), Crispin poses a threat to Lady Furnival, who does not wish to see him agitate for the position of lord. Essentially, it is men working on Lady Furnival's behalf who are responsible for Crispin being declared a wolf's head. Thus, hunted on every side and bereft of human support, Crispin thinks he is worthless and beneath God's notice or heaven's mercy.

Because Crispin's mother, Asta, had been rejected and unrecognized by Lord Furnival (the man who impregnated her), she viewed her son as a curse of sorts when she was alive. Crispin states that he sometimes thought she found him repulsive. This dysfunctional childhood is the cause of Crispin's guilt complex. Although he isn't quite sure what he's guilty of, his general feeling is that he is condemned to be ostracized and rejected for life. 

Later, when Father Quinel is murdered before he gets to tell Crispin about his father, Crispin concludes that the priest's death is meant to be seen as God's judgment on him. When Crispin meets Bear (an itinerant juggler and performer), the older man tries to teach him that no one is perfect and that God is more merciful than he thinks. Crispin is unconvinced, however; he believes he is beyond salvation and that there is some unknown sin embedded within him that has caused God to reject him. It is noteworthy that while Crispin feels alienated from God, he simultaneously yearns for divine acceptance.

It takes Crispin a long time before he begins to believe he can approach God without fear. Bear's assertion that churches and priests are unnecessary to personal salvation is initially a strange teaching to Crispin. As time progresses and Crispin begins to understand the concept of freedom, he comes to value the idea of individual agency. Thus, when he hears John Ball proclaim the right of every citizen to be free of "petty tyrants," "privileged or corrupt parliaments or Councillors," and "corrupt priests and bishops," Crispin begins to understand how wrong his life's thinking has been.

It is from this point forward that Crispin changes the way he thinks of himself. He rejects the Furnival claim to power, seeing it as a bondage of sorts. Instead, he chooses to reclaim his life based on the principles espoused by both John Ball and Bear—"that no man, or woman either, shall be enslaved, but stand free and equal to one another." It is this new resolve and faith in himself that inspires Crispin to go to Lord Furnival's palace to save Bear, the only concrete father-figure he has ever known in his life. Thus, Crispin is a dynamic character in the story; his evolution from self-loathing penitent to confident justice warrior is an immensely satisfying development to follow.

kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For most of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, this thirteen year-old peasant boy thinks very poorly of himself. Until the death of his mother, he has never been treated as an individual. All his life, he has been called "Asta's Son" and he has never been offered any agency in terms of choosing his work or leisure. He is mistreated by the Steward of the Manor and bears the stigma of being an illegitimate child. Even his mother was quite distant in raising him, hardly showing him any affection.

Because of his difficult childhood, Crispin has very low self-esteem. He believes that his misfortune is punishment from God and that he is deserves his suffering. He prays often, asking for forgiveness and direction, but he does not think that his prayers necessarily make him a better person.

When Crispin meets Bear, he is exceedingly ashamed of himself as the large man points out how ignorant and dirty Crispin is. He is bound to Bear as a servant and believes it is the will of God that he not be free. Though Bear is a bit hard on him, Crispin begins to stand up to him and is treated as a student and friend. He becomes more like Bear's assistant than slave, and their experiences together empower Crispin with a sense of protection and confidence. 

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Crispin: The Cross of Lead

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