Interpretation and Analysis: “Mr. Edwards and the Spider”

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Robert Lowell was born in 1917 into one of the first families of Boston, also called the Boston Brahmins, a class of New Englanders who claim descent from the original English Protestants who founded the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Lowell attended Harvard College but transferred to Kenyon College to study under John Crowe Ransom. He turned away from his Puritan heritage and converted to Roman Catholicism from 1940 to 1946, which influenced his first two books, Land of Unlikeness and Lord Weary's Castle. Lowell’s book Life Studies (1959), which reveals his struggles with madness, alcohol, and marital infidelity, gave rise to the so-called “confessional” school (“Robert Lowell”). Lowell was a conscientious objector during World War…show more content…
The fifth stanza follows suit and uses more text from “The Future Punishments,” which starts by raising the question regarding the depth of hell. Lowell adds an identity to the speaker’s interlocutor, none other than Josiah Hawley, Jonathan Edwards’ uncle who committed suicide. According to Christian beliefs, suicide is ranked as one of the worst sins and will guarantee a spot in hell for the deceased’s soul. In this sermon, Edwards uses tactile imagery in attempts to help the intended audience imagine the torture of an eternity in hell. The last lines of the poem use the spider theme again, but instead of the spider as a symbol of the sinner’s helplessness against the wrath of God, the “Black Widow,” a North American species of venomous spiders, is used to symbolize Edward’s real definition of death: To die and experience the sinking of one’s soul into the endless abyss of hell. “Mr. Edwards and the Spider” uses the imagery and symbolism of spiders in a variety of ways as it is woven into the central theme. Initially, Lowell used parts of the “Of Insects” letter to introduce the idea of watching the spiders and observing their natural actions. Edwards saw that the wind picked up the spiders and blew them away to the sea. The spider in this context is a symbol of how man’s mindless slothfulness and immorally complacent nature leads to his destruction. In the third stanza, the “hour-glass blazoned’ spider, which

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