Of what is Dante's dark place symbolic?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "dark wood" that establishes the exposition to the Inferno can literally be seen as an area in which the pilgrim does not know where he is.  It is explained that the pilgrim, later to be revealed as Dante himself, does not know how he got there or what he is doing there.  This can be symbolic of many elements.  Given the fact that Dante is in the dark place on Good Friday, his "dark place" could be a condition in which he fails to understand the power of spiritual identity.  Thus, the dark place is a symbol of life without religious notions of the good.  Another symbolism of the dark wood could be Dante's loss of identity with the spiritual union of all being.  Beatrice represents the love of Dante's life that fuses all opposites into one.  This understanding of redemption is not realized until he enters Paradiso.  Thus, the dark place could be a realm in which Beatrice's presence is not recognized.  Another understanding of the dark wood or place is the world in which Dante fails to understand the levels of inferno and the levels to which human beings can sink.  The commitment of sin and salvation is not known to the pilgrim until he embarks on the journey with his guide, Virgil.  In this reading, the dark place is symbolic of a world in which individuals fail to understand the reality of transgression in both their souls and their world.