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In The Serpent King, the author Jeff Zentner presents the thematic idea of courage. Through plot events, character dialogue, and other literary elements, Zentner develops the theme that courage allows people to overcome adversity and be pushed to attempt situations that the individual is afraid to undertake. For example, when Travis was being abused by his father, Travis finally stood up to him: “Travis threw the belt into a corner, looked his father dead in the eyes and pointed, his hand shaking like his voice. ‘You lay a hand on me again, I’ll break it off your hand. You lay a hand on my again, I will (profanity) kill you”. Throughout Travis’s life, he had to deal with his father’s cruel manner, which meant he had to endure much pain and torment. Although, Travis had mustered up the audacity to confront his father about his wrongdoings. Travis knew that the only way he would be able to protect himself and his mother from harm was to face the problem head on. Travis’s actions supports the theme because courage obliged him to take action into what he believes is right, in spite of fear of the consequences.
Throughout the book, the main character Dill had to tackle many of his struggles and also do things that he was frightened to endeavor. Namely, on the day of the talent competition, “Dill was nauseated that morning. He couldn’t eat breakfast. He and Lydia didn’t speak at all on the way to school. He couldn’t pay attention in class. The talent show assembly was after lunch. He trembled as he filed into the auditorium, guitar case in hand”. However, as he stepped onto the stage, “Dill took a breath and began to play and sing. He sang like the Holy Spirit had descended on him with a cleansing fire”. The first quote shows that Dill had a sense of apprehension and was hesitant about performing; perhaps, due to the reason that he was scared of the reactions he would receive. However, based on the second quote, Dill was able to gather his valiance and express his love for music. Before, Dill was uncertain about the possibility of positive results, but his courage gave him the ability to subdue nervousness and muster up the willingness to perform. Furthermore, after Travis’s passing, Dill began to neglect the type of person he was. He started feeling guilt by blaming himself and his legacy for being the fault into Travis’s death. He even came close to taking his life: “Then he stood, gathered his courage, and decided to end his life and take his chances on the next”. This does not explicate that Dill actually wants to “end his life,” but figuratively means that he is going to build a new life for himself. Dill plans to do this by going to college: “I’m here because I made you a promise. I need to leave and go to college or I’m going to die. I can’t do it without your help”.
It takes immense strength to be able to continue life after mental suffering and also deviate from the path that has been set for you. Since the outcome of Dill’s future was one of the conflicts he was wrestling with, it corroborates that Dill possesses courage in order to forge his own path, considering his parent’s views on the issue. Likewise, another event where resilience assisted Dill into handling his problem efficiently was when he addressed the school bully: “Dill stepped between Madison and Lydia. ‘Hey, Madison, Tyson. Do you guys not get it? You can’t hurt us anymore. You can’t do anything to use. You can’t take anything from us. You’re nothing now”. In other interactions with the same people, Dill never actually defended himself because that position was lended to Lydia instead. There had been many times where Dill was challenged by contempt from others. In other words, this part of the narrative indicates a boost in Dill’s personal confidence. As he acquires courage, Dill becomes more brave in speaking up for himself and is able to withstand one of his problems. Moreover, Dill had experience a sense of moral fortitude when it was time for him to say goodbye to Lydia: “At least send her off with every secret treasure of your heart. Haven’t you learned by now that you’re completely naked? You’ve danced with death. What do you have left to fear? You can survive anything. Serpents. Deadly poison. This. ‘I love you,’ he whispered in her hair”.
It is demonstrated that courage contributed to Dill’s choice into confronting the unknown and the likelihood of agony afterwards. Due to the author showing that Dill feels he has nothing to dread about proves that he has a more mature nature now. The trait of courage affected Dill beneficially by paving the way his actions are perceived and also led to individual growth in character. With all things considered, it is evidently established that the theme of The Serpent King is that courage enables individuals to have the determination to take risks and prevail over their difficulties.
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