Ken Follett portrays a negative image of society through his epic novel Pillars of the Earth which depicts events surrounding the construction of a cathedral in a medieval community. Creating a microcosm of society, Follett exemplifies the constant human struggle for power against divine power, and eventually other people. The characters in the novel represent the products of a society limited by its own evil and corruption. As a result, the characters lose faith in God, which causes a deterioration of social structure. The repeated destruction of the physical church symbolizes the wavering social existence under God. Striving to build a magnificent house of worship, the characters are hindered by constant enemy attacks and flawed construction which result in the deterioration of the building. The obstacles that the characters face reflect Follettís message that humanity is destined for failure because of its own wrong doings but is able to redeem itself at any time should its members choose positive paths. The unfortunate events in the novel, accompanied by occasional Christian good deeds, mirror the reality that human nature is inclined toward failure rather than fulfillment of Godís intentions.
Although Follett depicts a religiously corrupt medieval community, medieval religion was not always corrupting; it also acted as an inspiration for change. Religious faith greatly influenced the lives of people in the Middle Ages and inspired frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and Canterbury. This Christian pilgrimage tradition became an important factor in the religious, social, and economic dimensions of medieval life. Christians took part in pilgrimages in order to strengthen their relationship with God and fulfill personal spiritual needs. Motivations for pilgrimages, however, were sometimes unconventional. In some circumstances, Christians traveled to escape from harsh punishments or to take a vacation from daily routine. Pilgrimages emerged as a social practice for all members of society as well as an economic strategy that expanded trade routes and foreign markets. Though the history of each pilgrimage site and the pilgrims who traveled differed, the practice of pilgrimage not only expanded the minds of medieval travelers, it brought forth changes that transformed the behavior and attitudes of all members of society.
Major Works Citied:
Follett, Ken. Pillars of the Earth. New York: New American Library, 2007.
Photo Credit: Follett, Ken. The Pillars of the Earth. New York: New American Library, 2007.
Labarge, Margaret Wade. Medieval Travelers: The Rich and the Restless. London: Orion, 2005.
Verdon, Jean. Travel in the Middle Ages. South Bend: U of Notre Dame P, 2003.