What role does wealth play in The Da Vinci Code?
The Da Vinci Code, like many international thrillers, operates in a world of extreme privilege. The characters’ interactions take place against grand backdrops. Langdon, who is cast as a modest schoolteacher, teaches at Harvard and stays in the Ritz while in Paris to give lectures to assembled cognoscenti. Sophie, a police inspector with a heart of gold, grew up in a big house in Paris—she remembers running from room to room and up and down stairs looking for the clues her grandfather left for her in treasure hunts. Even the revelation of Sophie’s grandfather’s participation in the ritual of Hieros Gamos takes place in the basement of her grandfather’s chateau in Normandy—a rather exalted setting. Saunière is a curator at the Louvre and can bring his granddaughter to see the Mona Lisa when there are no pesky tourists to interfere. He is also friends with the head of the Zurich Bank in Paris, André Vernet. Several other highly influential men are also members of the Priory of Sion. In the moral universe of The Da Vinci Code, one can be rich and still be good, but once a certain level of income is exceeded, greed sets in. Sir Leigh Teabing, who has all the money he could possibly want, and whose house is a study in overprivilege, can have anything that his heart desires. He can get across borders without passports and board planes at the drop of a hat. All of this privilege, Brown implies, ruins Teabing morally and makes it impossible for him to cope mentally with the fact that he can’t have the one thing he really wants: knowledge of where the Grail is hidden. Similarly, Aringarosa, the head of Opus Dei, is accustomed to the clout that excessive amounts of money buy for his order. When the Church says that the Pope has decided to disassociate himself from Opus Dei, Aringarosa is shocked, because Opus Dei bailed the Vatican Bank out of trouble a few years earlier. Aringarosa confuses economic power with moral power. This confusion is his moral failing.
Additionally, In Brown’s world, people who simply prefer riches, like Bishop Aringarosa, are morally inferior. The difference between crude rich people, like Aringarosa, and rich people with taste, like Teabing, is that the tasteful rich can tell the difference between a good painting and a bad one.
How does the novel’s drive to educate readers on the history, art history, and symbology behind the mystery relate to its narrative flow?
Part of the thrill of The Da Vinci Code is its string of revelations about the historical theories that propel the plot. Many of these revelations come to light during a dramatic action. When, standing in front of Saunière’s body, Langdon tells Fache about the significance of the pentacle to pagan worshippers, and makes the differentiation between paganism and devil worship, the fact that he is standing in front of a dead man who has drawn a pentacle on his chest with blood both holds the reader’s interest and makes his impromptu lecture seem unlikely—who explains pentacles in front of a corpse?. When Langdon tells Sophie about the ancient view of sexual intercourse as a healthy expression of the uniting of man and woman and the power of nature, the reader is interested because Sophie remembers seeing her grandfather participate in that ritual.
When Brown presents information without any dramatic counterpoint, the temptation to skip over paragraphs might set in. For example, Langdon’s explanation about Baphomet has little relevance to the plot and might cause impatience. And when the Temple Church is described in detail, it is challenging to follow along, and in the end the clue leading the group there is a red herring.
Is The Da Vinci Code objective about the mysteries it presents, or is this novel, as many have claimed, written as a diatribe against the Church?
The Da Vinci Code certainly can be interpreted as an offense to the Roman Catholic Church. In the presentation of the themes that have been investigated by historians, such as the missing Gospels, the marriage of Jesus, and the killing of pagans by the Church, the novel examines issues that challenge the historical authority of the Church. Many issues that historians consider controversial are presented as fact. When Langdon and Teabing tell Sophie about the blood lines of Mary Magdalene, they do not tell her that it is merely a theory, not an accepted fact. At the end of the novel, Sophie discovers that she is a descendent of Jesus, a plot twist that suggests that every theory presented in the novel is true.
But The Da Vinci Code doesn’t paint a completely negative picture of the Church. By the end of the novel, Brown has revealed that Teabing, who is not associated with the Church, is responsible for the murders of the Priory brothers. This revelation forces the reevaluation of many of the negative implications about the Church that Brown makes at the beginning of the novel: Opus Dei did not order Silas to kill; Bishop Aringarosa feels terrible about the murders of the Brotherhood and offers the victims’ families money; the Church itself was planning to separate from Opus Dei and bring its practices more up to date with modern society. And before Silas dies, he feels immense peace thinking of God as a deity of forgiveness, a feeling of reassurance that Bishop Aringarosa has given him. Silas turns into an example of a person who has been rescued by his faith.
1. Does The Da Vinci Code opens doors to discussion about religion, as Dan Brown has said, or does it close them?
2. Is the depiction of women in this novel a tribute to their intelligence, or does it subtly uphold the patriarchal structures it purports to rail against?
3. In what ways is The Da Vinci Code similar to other popular novels in the thriller genre? In what ways does it depart from them?
4. How does The Da Vinci Code juxtapose ancient and modern worlds?
5. How do Langdon’s flashbacks to his teaching work in the States contribute to the narrative?