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Cain and Abel-

The original story of Cain and Abel is a biblical tale about the two brothers that served as the first children of Adam and Eve. In almost all versions of the original story, Cain is portrayed as a crop farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. In short, both brothers make regular sacrifices to God, - Cain gives up his crops, while Abel presents his finest sheep - but only Abel's offerings are accepted. This favoritism drives Cain into a jealous rage, which ultimately leads him to kill his brother, Abel. He is then punished by God: Cain is exiled from the land, and given a mark to signify his actions and prevent people from killing him out of revenge.

Significance in Literature -

Cain and Abel are often used in literature to signify a variety of things. Given the polarization of their natures into good and evil in the biblical account, they often represent the human capacity for good and evil. Similarly, "Cain and Abel" characters are commonly introduced to present sibling rivalry as an element in a piece of work. On a darker note, the story of Cain and Abel is also significant for being the first murder (fratricide, nonetheless) to be introduced in the bible. Their actions serve to detail the consequences of murder, and the horror in killing a family member.

Allusions to Cain and Abel -

The story of Cain and Abel is commonly referenced throughout literature, likely due to the huge amount of exposure to biblical stories around the world. The classic story embodies ideas of sibling rivalry, good vs. evil, and human temptation (rage and jealousy) that can be seen in many other pieces of literature. For example, East of Eden by John Steinbeck features the characters Cal and Aron, which reference the biblical story on multiple occasions, such as comparisons between their occupations (Shepherd to priest, Bean crops to farmer) and the, in this case, inadvertent killing of the the "Abel" by the "Cain" when Cal indirectly kills Aron.

Usage as an Archetype -

As an archetype, the occurrence of Cain and Abel in literature generally places a focus on sibling rivalry. Commonly, this archetype will appear as two characters that are closely related (or family) who are presented as overly contentious. Often, the characters will serve as a dramatic foil for each other, sometimes representing conflicting morals or beliefs, and on other occasions symbolizing the classic struggle between good and evil.

Below are some examples of this Archetype/Allusion in Literature:

  • Hamlet (Claudius and his bro) and a lot of other Shakespeare's works.
  • In Mythology:
    • Romulus and Remus
    • Loki and Odin
    • Ares and Athena
    • Set and Osiris
  • Sort of:
    • Dumbledore and Grindelwald
    • Smeagol and Deagol
    • Eragon and Murtagh
  • John Steinbeck’s East of Eden
  • The Godfather (Michael and Fredo Corleone)
  • Jacob and Esau (Bible)
  • Transformers (Optimus and Megatron)
  • Prince of Persia (“Nizam kills his brother to be king, then he tries to go back in time to kill him sooner, so he’ll be king longer”)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (Zuko and Azula)
  • Blades of Glory (Katie, Stranz, and Fairchild van Waldenberg)

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