Study Guide

Crispin: Cross of Lead Sin

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As for me, I felt, as I often did, ashamed. It was as if I contained an unnamed sin that made me less than nothing in their eyes. (1.4)

Asta's son has always felt that people in the village look down on him, but he has no idea why. This contributes to his lack of confidence in himself and his feeling that there's something wrong with him. Sad times.

It was my curiosity—another name, my mother had often said, for Satan—that made me want to see what was there. (2.7)

People in Crispin's world definitely believe that questioning anything is a sin because God has willed everything to be as it is. However, it's also true that curiosity killed the peasant, as well as the cat, so it could be that Asta is just trying to keep her son safe.

For the remainder of the night, I found little rest. Not only was I in fear of being found and made subject to the steward's wrath, I was still engulfed by grief at my mother's death. Then, too, I had turned from the priest when he had asked me to church. I had broken the curfew, too. Why, I'd even stolen church wine to ease my mother's pains before she died. In short, I was certain God was punishing me.

Even as I waited for His next blow, I sought, with earnest prayers, forgiveness for my sinful life. (2.34-35)

Wow, guilty conscience much? We're pretty sure it's John Aycliffe, not God, who's causing all this trouble for our boy Crispin.

These confessions were numerous, since I had become convinced there was some sin embedded in me, a sin I was desperate to root out. (3.5)

Poor Crispin. Is there anything worse than not knowing why everyone is mad at you? While Crispin doesn't know what he's done to offend everyone in Stromford, we know that his parents weren't married, which in this time was considered a sin that reflected just as much on the child as on the parents. It's likely that many people also suspect that Lord Furnival is his father, and their anti-Furnival feelings trickle down to Crispin.

Birth and death alone gave distinction to our lives, as we made the journey between the darkness whence we had come to the darkness where we were fated to await Judgment Day. Then God's terrible gaze would fall on use and lift us to Heaven's bliss or throw us down to the everlasting flames of Hell. (3.14)

This pretty much sums up a Medieval European outlook on life and explains the obsession with sin and confession and forgiveness. Life was brief and hard for most people, so they tended to focus on where they were going to spend eternity.

"Was he a sinner?" I demanded. "Did he commit some crime? Should I be ashamed of him?" (8.72)

Well, as it turns out, Lord Furnival is not going to win any Nobel Peace Prizes. Still, Crispin is desperate for information about his father, even if that information doesn't lead anywhere good.

As for what would happen, I could see little but an early death in an unmarked grave—if I were lucky to have even that. What's more, I knew that if I died alone, without benefit of sacred rites, I'd plunge straight to Hell, and my torments would go on forever. (12.7)

What we like about Crispin is the way he always looks on the bright side. You just can't keep that guy down. Seriously, though, sins are serious business in Medieval England, even those—like dying without sacred rites—that you can't help.

Late that day, besieged by fears, very lonely and quite famished, I fell to my knees and prayed with deep-hearted, sobbing words. In these prayers I acknowledged my great unworthiness to my Lord Jesus and searched my heart for every sin to which I could confess. This time I begged him to gather me that I might join my mother in His holy Heaven. The truth was—and how great my shame—I no longer wished to live; which was, I knew, a sin. (13.15)

The cause of this blight was well known: God had sent it as punishment for our sins. All one could do was pray to Jesus and run—and even then, there was no escape. (15.11)

Crispin refers here to the Great Mortality, or plague, which was generally believed to be a divine punishment for a sinful world.

But I am only bad, I thought to myself, wishing yet again I knew what sin was embedded in me to have brought God's hand so hard upon me. (24.22)

Sadly for Crispin, he's never heard the idea that "bad things happen to good people." Because so many bad things have happened to him, he believes that he himself is bad, rather than just unfortunate.

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