Study Guide

Crispin in Crispin: Cross of Lead

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The Wolf's Head

Being a wolf's head is way less awesome than it sounds. It sounds like you get to be part of House Stark, but since we're in Medieval England, not Westeros (no matter how similar they may be), being a wolf's head means you're the lowest of the low. As landless serfs, Crispin and his mom were pretty low to begin with, but after John Aycliffe accuses him of stealing from the manor and declares him a wolf's head, Crispin's not even human in a legal sense, which means anyone can kill him. And many try.

"A wolf's head!" I gasped, horrified.

"Do you understand what it means?"

"That… I'm considered not human," I said, my voice faltering. "That anyone may… kill me." (8.35-27)

When you thought you were already as low as you could get on the social ladders, it's got to be a shock to find out there's a rock bottom beyond that. And that this is your new social home. Ugh.

What's Your Name?

Think about your name. Now think about not having one and just being called "Mom's Name's Son/Daughter." How would that affect the way you feel about yourself and how important you think you are in the grand scheme of things? No wonder Asta's son has a rather low opinion of himself and doubts himself all the time. It's one thing to be poor, and there's not much difference between a serf and a slave except that their nominal freedom means that serfs have to pay taxes and rent, but it's another thing entirely to not even have a name.

Crispin's adjustment to his true name mirrors his increasing sense of self-worth as a person. After he first learns his secret name from the priest, he thinks about it:

Occasionally I would say the name Crispin out loud. It was rather like a new garment that replaces an old: desired but not yet comfortable. (9.2)

Crispin wants to come into his own and embrace his individuality—it's "desired"—but it's pretty foreign in terms of concepts of self, or "not yet comfortable." So when Bear asks him what his name is, Crispin isn't sure what to answer:

I hesitated, not wanting him to call me what I had always been called—Asta's son. But I was not comfortable with my newly discovered name either. (19.40)

Crispin enters a period of uncertainty and transition that finally ends when he decides to create his own identity at the end of the book, declaring, "And my name—I knew with all my heart—was Crispin" (58.46). When this happens, we know our main man has finally landed.

Who's Your Daddy?

It's 1377, and we're a long way from anyone being "his own man," being "a self-made man," or anything else that implies that people have individual freedom or free will or anything like that.

Nope, in 1377, the powerful man in your life—father, lord, or both—is everything, often determining whether you live or die. Yeah, it's way sexist, but still, your father's identity is a big deal and Asta's son doesn't have one. This lack also defines how he feels about himself, though at first it's not such a big deal. He's always been told that his lack of a father is due to the Great Mortality, or Black Death. So like many people, he's fatherless due to simple bad luck.

Of course it's not actually this simple, and Crispin eventually learns that his father is Lord Furnival, for whom he is named. Alas, Lord Furnival is either dying or dead, and a father who left Crispin and his mother in terrible conditions for the first thirteen years of his life isn't likely to turn out to be a great protector now. When Crispin finds out that his (now dead) father was Lord Furnival, he has to deal with being rejected by his father and with the fact that his father was a jerk at once:

I kept asking myself if I felt different, if I was different. The answer was yes. I was no longer nothing. I had become two people—Lord Furnival's son… and Crispin. (51.2)

Do you see what's happening here? In figuring out who his dad is/was, Crispin is freed from his fatherless identity and able to more fully become himself. In finding his father, Crispin can let go of this lack and become more wholly his own person. As much as his journey is about surviving Aycliffe's murderous attempts, it's really about Crispin coming into his own, which we know he most certainly does when he decides to keep his name in the end.

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