No man is defeated without until he has first been defeated within. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Question #92165 posted on 04/11/2019 10:48 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Cakesniffers,

Just binged the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Fun stuff, like rediscovering the books again. Anyway, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the obvious symbolism in the last two chapters ("The Penultimate Peril" and "The End"), particularly regarding a final judgement, a certain tree, and bitter apples.

Given Daniel Handler's Jewish upbringing, what do you think the meaning of "The End" is?

What other symbolism is there in the series, especially as it relates to Judaism or religion in general?

In general, what do you think A Series of Unfortunate Events has to say about the human condition?

-Very Fine Dramatist


Dear VFD,

If you are interested in answers with satisfying endings, you would be better off reading some other answer. In this answer, not only is there no satisfying ending, there is outright misinformation from the beginning and misleading conjecture (a word which here means "guesswork about a story Babalugats has never read and has no place analyzing") in the middle. Though I am glad it is over with, I am sorry you have read so much of the Baudelaire story and remind you that "it is not too late to stop peeling away the layers, and to put [the] book back on the shelf to whither away while you read something less complicated and overwhelming."

Though I never finished the series, I really enjoyed reading this analysis and I think 3tych is on the right track. He at least helps assign some entities to the symbols that help think about it more clearly. You might want to have this discussion on a similar forum where everyone has read it and appreciates them as you do. Without having actually read them, I don't think I can fairly make too many claims but I'll try. Reading the summaries, I'm gleaning a few possible interpretations. The following will not have any explicit spoilers, but there's some strong hints: 

Good and evil people are in many ways the same (Frank and Ernest Denouement). We're all acting on what matters to us, and that's where we are most liable to be wicked--or incompetent (Olaf and his goons vs. Mr. Poe). I think there's a theme that says incompetence and wickedness have similar effect on the world around us. Incompetence, self-preservation, complacency and ignorance/secret keeping (the Baudelaire's parents, Ishmael), can all be blamed for the Baudelaires' and others' misfortunes just as much as any evil intent. The entire series is an indictment of authority, both secular and religious, for having those qualities.

There is a lot of neat symbolism going on with fire/elevator scenes in Penultimate Peril. Seems like an interesting way to frame Pascal's wager. If the Baudelaires here represent God, and Olaf represents Satan, the Baudelaire's role in the fire is an interesting element. 

To offer some religious context for The End: Unlike Latter-Day Saints, Judaism mostly views the original sin as an unfortunate product of human-kind's evil nature. The story of Adam and Eve is about how even the best humans have evil inclinations that need to be overcome. 

The End may be reminiscent of Moses and the serpent staff. Israelites get bit by a bunch of snakes and are dying, Moses is commanded to erect a bronze serpent on a staff. If the Israelites will just look upon it they will be healed. But many find it too simple, or are unrepentant, and refuse to look. I like the use of the forbidden turnip apple things though, because it ties Moses' story to the garden of Eden. What if we had to eat the forbidden fruit to be saved? But that reading is definitely influenced by my activity in the Church of Jesus Christ.  

your Venerable Friendly Damsel,