Christ Figure in Literature | meaning, examples, and significance 

The Christ figure in literature is quite rife as much as it is not also new. When we read literary works and interpret them at face level, we understand most of them to be discussing such themes as humility, discipline, hope, and redemption among others, but there is usually more to this with a closer view; something often undefinedly spiritual. 

Those themes don’t just end up getting clear to us, authors use a number of techniques in painting them real in our minds. One of such techniques is the Christ figure, do you know? 

Key Takeaways

  • Meaning: Literary characters that act parallel to the Biblical Jesus are works of the Christ figure technique in literature. 
  • Examples: Aslan, Uncle Tom, Melchizedek, Santiago, Superman, etc. are Christ figure examples in literature. 
  • Significance: Since the Christ figure technique can accentuate literary works, authors use it in making the ideas they proselytize hit their readers more effectively. 

      What is Christ Figure in Literature?

      Christ figure in literature is a technique employed by authors to make an allusion or correspondence between the characters in their work and the Biblical Jesus. You probably already know about Jesus; the being said to be the son of God in the New Testament of the christian Bible. 

      With the kind of life he lived, Jesus was half human and semi-God during his stay on Earth. 

      Consequent upon this, it is believed that Christ figures in literature are best portrayed by characters that also exhibit some attributes or peculiarities of Jesus. 

      Christ Figure in Literature | meaning, examples, and significance 

      The term Christ figure in literature may sometimes also be regarded as martyr, martyr archetype, or Christ image; hinging on one’s choice and more often context. Some scholars may prefer martyr archetype to Christ image, for instance, because the latter sounds quite biblical. 

      More on whether or not Christ figure in literature is necessarily biblical, in a bit.

      Identifying Christ figure in literature 

      First, in Christ figures in literature, we should consider Thomas Foster’s hint in his book How to Read Like a Professor. He teaches us to pay attention to characters that are selfless (even those that may be willing to give up their lives for a course), performing miracles, overcoming temptations, and all that. 

      You see, the whole thing boils down on the fact that we must first be familiar with the source of the inspiration for the technique; Jesus. If you have read or learned by any means about his personality—he didn’t have a materialized ideology, he had disciples, he died for others, he had superpowers, etc—you can look out for them in literature to identify Christ images. 

      That said, Christ figures in literature are expected to display traits like: 

      • Healing others
      • Being genuinely rational
      • Fighting against oppression or injustice at large
      • Manifestation of divine qualities
      • Being guided by the spirit of the father character (as was the case with Superman in film). 

      With respect to this example, Superman was sent to Earth by Jor-El, his father, yes—serving as the spirit of the father character to save the world, similar to Jesus’ mission and course on Earth. 

      Christ Figure in Literature | meaning, examples, and significance 
      Image for illustration purposes

      With an assumption that you know how some of the events that occurred in Superman’s life correspond with those of Jesus’, it would be needless to mention that Kal-El made Lois Lane rise from death. Lois Lane would be the movie’s Lazarus in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. 

      Note, also, that a character needn’t necessarily possess all the characters of Jesus before it is fit to be Christ-like! 

      Read Also: Is the Bible fiction or nonfiction? 

      Examples of Christ Figures in Literature 

      It turns out that some books portray the Christ image more defined than others. As a result, we may not always notice instances where the technique is used in literary works. But, following are some examples you may be familiar with. 

      • Superman (earlier discussed) 
      • Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea

      In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, we saw his main character display some traits in correspondence with Jesus’. One of such attributes will be that he has a follower (disciple). He was humble. He was resilient. And he had faith.

      For instance, Santiago represented Jesus carrying his cross when he (Santiago) laboriously carried the mast of his skiff back to his shack after his three days ordeal with catching a big marlin.  

      Aside from Superman and Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, there are several other undefined Christ figure examples in great literary works including: 

      • Melchizedek, the King of Salem in The Alchemist

      In the book, Melchizedek as the Christ figure equipped Santiago (the protagonist) to seek his Personal Legend. 

      According to sources, Melchizedek showed up because Santiago was already going to give up on his dream of chasing his Personal Legend. 

      Santiago looked down on Melchizedek at first; he didn’t know what the man was. The king didn’t reveal his status to the shepherd boy at first coupled with the fact that he appeared like a common man despite his ight and power. 

      This character has humility in common with the biblical Jesus who, in an instance, chose a donkey over a colt. 

      But you may want to argue that Melchizedek in the said book does not so much parallel the Bible Jesus like the Biblical king Melchizedek who appears in the book of Genesis. 

      Do not confuse it. Christ figure in literature is not necessarily Christ figure in the Bible. As Wikipedia put it, it could quite loosely be a correspondence a prophetic or spiritual character shares with other prophetic or spiritual figures of worth. 

      So, you see, even though the Christ figure technique might have been inspired by Jesus, it is not exactly biblical but a mere shadow of the Biblical Jesus, as another source proposed. One reason the term could be martyr archetype in other words. 

      Other examples of Christ figure in literature are: 

      • Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
      • Lord of the Flies’ Simon
      • Aslan of The Chronicles of Narnia 
      • James Cole in Twelve Monkeys 
      • Harry Potter of Rowling’s Harry Potter 

      It is important to also admit that the Christ figure technique in literature is not only peculiar to books but also plays. 

      The Significance of Christ Figure in Literature

      In literature, the Christ figure technique helps to convey a sense of redemption, miracle, humility, humanity, and hope among other attributes of the Biblical Jesus to make readers better resonate with literary crafts. 

      It has the ability to imbibe a nugget of spirituality in the author’s work, thereby rendering the soul of the reader more accessible to moral teachings. 

      Since the Christ figure technique can accentuate literary works as it has evidently done over time, it follows to say that authors use it in making the ideas they proselytize hit their readers differently and more effectively. 

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