The Structure and Content of Dante's Inferno Essay

The Structure and Content of Dante's Inferno Essay

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In his first article of The Inferno, Dante Alighieri starts to present a vivid view of Hell by taking a journey through many levels of it with his master Virgil. This voyage constitutes the main plot of the poem. The opening Canto mainly shows that, on halfway through his life, the poet Dante finds himself lost in a dark forest by wandering into a tangled valley. Being totally scared and disoriented, Dante sees the sunshine coming down from a hilltop, so he attempts to climb toward the light. However, he encounters three wild beasts on the way up to the mountain—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf—which force him to turn back. Then Dante sees a human figure, which is soon revealed to be the great Roman poet Virgil. He shows a different path to reach the hill and volunteers to be Dante’s guide, leading Dante to the journey towards Hell but also the journey seeking for light and virtue.
In terms of structure, Canto I functions as an introduction, explaining the two major characters and the motivation of their journey. Dante portrays himself as the protagonist and speaks in the first person from a subjective perspective. Through the establishment of such a strong voice, readers are given clear insight into his emotions and motivations. He strikes the contrast between "dark" and "light" to strengthen that he fears the dark and sinful desires within himself but he pursues the hope of light at the same time, which is the key of his spiritual journey. To symbolize the dark side, Dante illustrates his encounter with three beasts while the rescue from Virgil signifies the light side. The image of “light” and “dark” as well as their allegorical meanings is shown through these lively imageries, rich metaphors and strong voice in order to pre...


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...eeper perspective, Virgil also has an allegorical representation of human reason—“both in its immense power and in its inferiority to faith in God.” As showing respect to his Master, Dante eulogizes the beauty of human reason, truth, and virtue. Moreover, such belief in human reason signifies Dante's hope towards a bright society and the pursuit of God’s love as the other part of self-reflection.
In conclusion, a great deal of tension and contrast between “dark” and “light” in The Inferno helps us to explore Dante’s self portrait—he fears dangerous desires and sinful darkness, but shows much courage and hope towards life since he nevertheless follows his guide Virgil to dive into horrible Hell. As shown in Canto I, such emotional reaction to dark and light symbols lays a great foundation for developing Dante’s broad and universal traits as his journey progresses.

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