Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 2 Sections 9 18 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 2, Sections 9–18 (Adolescence) | Summary

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Summary

The next sections discuss at length his stealing of pears with his companions, which has more psychological weight in his mind than his sexual escapades do. He notes that he already had access to better fruit than what he stole, but he simply wanted to enjoy the theft for its own sake. His gang took "enormous quantities" of stolen fruit, he says, "perhaps to throw to the pigs." Augustine says he was "in love ... with decay itself, for I was a depraved soul, and I leapt down from your strong support ... hungering not for some advantage to be gained by the foul deed, but for the foulness itself." He also notes that, had he been alone, he would never have stolen the pears, and he took pleasure in sharing the crime with others. "The theft gave us a thrill, and we laughed to think we were outwitting people who had no idea what we were doing." In Section 18 he equates himself with the prodigal son of the Gospel, wandering away from God in adolescence, until "I became to myself a land of famine."

Analysis

Augustine makes much of the pear robbery because it is a sin of perversity. The structure of perversity is to violate moral or social norms in a deliberate act of corruption or distortion. From a psychological perspective perversity is a response to human limitation and an attempt to transcend human boundaries, sometimes by wantonly using another person as an object for one's gratification. From a moral perspective perversity is an attack on values or ethics, a deliberate attempt to distort or corrupt the status quo. In this sense perversity is an extreme act of ego gratification. From a spiritual perspective it is a misuse of the will. Augustine recognizes this adolescent prank, which in one sense is a harmless crime, as an attack on the moral order and an exercise of corrupted will. Augustine and his friends didn't actually eat the pears; they didn't steal them out of need or even desire but only for a thrill. The pears in this story symbolize human egoism and willfulness that attempts to defy God and make itself equal to him. This fruit also recalls another fruit, that which Eve steals from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the book of Genesis, which leads to the "First Fall" of human beings. Engaging in bad behavior for the thrill of it, therefore, is the worst type of crime, which is why the saint is so hard on himself. However, he also notes that, left to his own devices, he would never have committed the theft. He is influenced by companions to make the wrong choice.

Augustine also references for the first time the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Saint Luke, a motif that runs through this work, in which the younger son leaves town with his portion of his father's inheritance, squanders it, and then returns home during a famine, hoping only to work as a servant. The father instead rejoices at his son's homecoming, for "he was lost and has been found." Augustine equates the misguided activities of the prodigal son with his own wanderings in the world before fully embracing God.

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