Discuss the presentation of Cain in Saramago’sCain. A Novel. What is the purpose – and the effect – of using Cain, the first murderer of the recently created world, as the protagonist or central character of this particular text?

HUM 210-006: World Mythologies

Topics for First Short Essay

Length: 3-4 pages

Papers must be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins, in a standard font (such as Times New Roman, 10, 11 or 12 pt).  You do not need to attach a title page; instead, make sure that your name, section number and the essay topic appear on your first page (top left-hand corner) – and don’t forget to insert name and page number, on EVERY page!  Include an interesting and relevant essay title above the main body of your text.  Your essay should be written in full sentences and proper paragraphs with all your sources properly documented (MLA format).  Papers should be stapled, but no folders or covers please.

Choose one of the following topics and write a 3-4 page essay in response.


Discuss the presentation of Cain in Saramago’sCain. A Novel.  What is the purpose – and the effect – of using Cain, the first murderer of the recently created world, as the protagonist or central character of this particular text?  Does Cain seem to develop as a character, or change as a character, throughout the course of the narrative?  In your discussion you might want to consider the significance of the following passages:

Joy, he asked himself, for Cain there can never be any joy, cain is the man who killed his brother, cain is the man who killed his brother, cain is the man born to witness the unspeakable, cain is the man who hates god.      (130)

Cain may be a murderer, but he’s an essentially honest man, and even the dissolute days he spent in concubinal bliss with Lilith, however reprehensible in bourgeois eyes, were not enough to alter his innate moral sense, one has only to think of the way he bravely stands up to god…                                               (131)

Remember to include specific examples from the text to support your discussion.


Explore the strange entanglement that (quite literally) binds Cain and God together in Saramago’sCain.  Is the mark on Cain’s forehead the sign of some sort of strangely inverted covenant between God and Cain?  How would you describe Cain’s attitude towards God?  Is this attitude justified?  Does this relationship remain constant, or do you detect change or development in this relationship over the course of the narrative?  Perhaps there is a specific incident, or a specific encounter that seems to signal a change or a shift the nature of the relationship? Does Cain appear to be perversely obsessed with God throughout the course of the narrative? In your discussion you might want to consider the opening section of the novel with the very first encounter between the two, then compare this with the closing pages where we witness the final encounter between this murderer and his God: but it seems likely that they argued with each other on many other occasions, and one thing we know for certain is that they continued to argue and are arguing still. The story, though, is over, there will be nothing more to tell.Remember to refer to specific examples from the text to support your discussion.        


Discuss the presentation of God in Saramago’sCain.  Consider the following conversation (between Cain and Lilith) to help you think through the various possibilities and difficulties involved in understanding or interpreting this God:

Well, I’m not sure I was chosen, but I have learned one thing, What’s that, That our god, the creator of heaven and earth, is completely mad….unless, of course, it’s not a case of real, authentic madness, but evil pure and simple, God could never be evil, if he was, he wouldn’t be gpd, evil is what the devil is for, It can’t be right for a god to order a father to kill his own son and burn him on a pyre simply as a test of faith, not even the wickedest of devils would order someone to do that…                                                 (116)

And consider the following insight offered during the fascinating conversation between God and Joshua:

the life of a god is not as easy as you all think, a god cannot, as people imagine, simply say what I want, I can and I command, and he can’t always get what he wants straight away, but has to go round in circles first, it’s true that I placed that mark on the forehead of cain, whom you’ve never seen and don’t even know, but what I can’t understand is why I don’t have the power to stop him going where his will takes him and doing whatever he wishes…(107-8)

Remember to refer to specific examples from the text in order to support your discussion.


The following is one of the many provocative statements we read in Saramago’sCain. A Novel.

The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.

Write an essay in which you explore this statement using Saramago’s novel with its focus on the adventures of Cain, to help you think through the issues involved.


Discuss the presentation of Lilith in Saramago’sCain.  Is she, in fact, a witch?  Why do the workers in the land of Nod seem to think that this is the case?  What is their evidence? Consider the following statement Lilith makes about herself in an intriguing conversation with Cain:

No one is just one person, you, for example, are both cain and abel, And you, Oh, I am all women, and all their names are mine, said lilith                                        (114)

What is the significance, and the implications, of Lilith’s statement about herself?


In Genesis, God uses the tremendous force of a great flood to destroy his creation.  Darren Aronofsky recently directed a controversial film version of the well-known Genesis story.  The film, Noah, focuses on those who survive the destruction (Noah, his family, and the animals who are taken into the ark).  One critic responds to the film with the following comments:

Noah himself – who, as superbly played by Russell Crowe, subtly morphs from a dutiful servant of the Creator into a very human monster with a terrifying streak of delusional megalomania.  Entrusted with mankind’s survival, Noah casts himself as mankind’s executioner; having lost all hope in humanity, he comes to believe that God has given up hope as well.  Aronosfsky isn’t trying to smear an unassailable Old Testament hero here: He’s simply acknowledging the universal human capacity for goodness and evil, compassion and indifference, while also suggesting how men in the grip of God-given convictions can be lured to the brink of madness and beyond.  And the director takes pains to show us how that madness comes about, in a crucial scene that peers, alongside Noah, deeply into the abyss of clawing, festering human depravity: Watching it, you almost come to understand exactly why even a magnanimous Creator might find a cataclysmic flood to be not merely the just response but the merciful one.

Is this an accurate analysis of the film and its presentation of Noah?  Write an essay in which you respond to the film’s presentation of Noah.  Does this version of Noah (as the critic seems to be suggesting) appear to be deluded, or obsessed to the point of madness??  Use the criticism above to help you think through the film’s presentation of this central figure in the Genesis flood story.  You do not have to agree with the critic’s assessment of Noah, but you can use his interpretation to help you formulate your own response to the film’s “hero.”  Remember to include specific examples from the film to support your discussion.


Compare the presentation of the flood episode in Saramago’sCain. A Novel with the imaginative presentation of this same story in Aronofsky’sNoah.  Do you detect any similarities that connect these versions?  Cain’s descendent Tubal Cain is a sinister presence throughout Aronofsky’s re-imagining and reworking of the Genesis account.  Can the same be said of Cain in Saramago’srevision of the story?   Or perhaps Saramago’s Cain is closer to Aronofsky’s Noah?  Discuss.

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