Barabbas Additional Summary

Pär Lagerkvist


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At Golgotha, Barabbas, watching the Crucifixion from which he was suddenly saved, is startled by the words uttered by the figure on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Even stranger to him is the darkness that seems to come over the world. As he is leaving the scene, he is also disturbed by the look of silent reproach directed at him by the dead man’s mother.

Back in Jerusalem, he meets and walks with a young girl, whom he knew before. The girl, who has a harelip, goes with him to a dive where some of his low companions are gathered. Barabbas and the people there discuss Barabbas’s rescue and the strange rabbi who made such extreme claims and yet permitted himself to be crucified like a criminal. Barabbas is considerably relieved that the people in the café do not believe in the rabbi’s divinity, although he is troubled that they did not notice the darkness that for a while hung over the land. After the young girl leaves the dive, Barabbas indulges, as a kind of escape from his worries, in a drunken debauch with one of the patrons of the café—a fat, crude woman.

Later, Barabbas meets a red-bearded follower of Christ who expects Christ to rise from the dead the next day. He explains some of Christ’s teachings to Barabbas but shamefacedly admits that before the end he denied Christ. The girl with the harelip, to whom Barabbas also talks about Christ, says that she met him. She is wilder in her predictions than is the red-bearded man; she expects the millennium and divine miracles at any moment. Superstition does not blur everything, however, for she tells Barabbas that Christ’s message is one of love. Barabbas thereupon goes to the grave; he watches all night but sees nothing. The next day, however, the stone is gone from the entrance. He believes that the followers of Christ have taken the body; the girl thinks he had risen.

Barabbas asks the followers of Christ about these events but finds little satisfaction in their answers. He cannot understand one who uses his power by refraining from using it. Barabbas is later taken to a man who was dead four days and was raised again by this rabbi. This man tells Barabbas that death is nothing; it is there, but it signifies nothing. He adds that after one experiences death, life also is as nothing. As Barabbas further questions the followers of Christ, it becomes clear that although they are believers, they are quite confused as to the meaning of all of these happenings. When the followers learn Barabbas’s identity, they naturally hate him.

About this time, Barabbas becomes estranged from his fellows in the low life of Jerusalem—so much so that he resigns himself from sensual life. The fat woman, his sometime lover, thinks that Christ’s soul has possessed Barabbas. One day, by accident, Barabbas is present at a church meeting and hears a rather disappointing sermon by the red-bearded man who denied Christ. He finds the snuffling testimony of witness given by the harelipped girl even more distasteful. Later, when a blind man denounces the girl as a Christian, Barabbas nevertheless knifes the first person who stones her. She dies a humble martyr, but one who...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)