Robert Crumb states that his illustration of the Book of Genesis is, for the most part, a literal representation of the text. He argues in the introduction that he is not interrupting anything, but merely illustrating the text as it is. This is very different from his usual controversial, “creative” pieces. However, there are moments in the story where it seems as if he is straying away from the words and using his artistic license to make a point about a particular topic. In Chapter 3, Crumb displays the serpent who encourages Eve to eat the apple as a mutant creature eerily similar to the image of man. Rather than displaying him as a different animal, Crumb makes the direct physical connection between the serpent and man. Crumb emphasizes the human characteristics in the serpent to show that humans have always possessed evil attributes.
Snakes, especially in ancient texts often symbolize evil or trickery. In Genesis, the serpent is initially introduced in the first image of chapter 3. He is depicted as having two arms, two legs, and a facial structure similar to a human. The image is oriented so that the serpent is facing the woman as if they are mirror images of each other. The concept that man (in this case woman) looks onto herself and sees a serpent, begins the connection between the serpent and man. The text that accompanies the image states, “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the beasts that the Lord God had made.” Crumb is making the clear connection between the wickedness of man and the evil of the serpent. When the serpent is mirroring woman, even their legs are positioned equidistance apart showing that in every part they are the same. He is not as much saying that the serpent causes the man to be sinful, but rather that man is inherently immoral which the serpent simply reveals. In the next frame, the reader can see the serpent’s face. It is a close up and the serpent is also included with 5 fingers, 2 eyes, a nose, and mouth. Even the pectoral muscles mimic that of man. Crumb is trying to show that the serpent and man are essentially the same cunning creature.
In many of Crumb’s works, including the Book of Genesis, he depicts humans as beast-like creatures. He shows the brutal abuse that humans can do to each other including fighting and murder. He also shows humans as very muscular, hairy, animalistic creatures, rather than beautiful, poetic forms. Even the scale in which humans are drawn is on an animalistic level. In the image of Eve looking at the tree of knowledge, she is shown as almost giant in size, looming over the fruit. The portrayal of people on a non-humanistic scale, with the parallelism of the snake as a human shows Crumb’s ideas that humans are inherently evil. In Genesis, the serpent is the creature that makes man know the evils of the world, but Crumb is arguing otherwise. He is stating that in fact man is evil from the start. Man is the true basis of sin. Man (shown in the serpent) is showing himself the evils of the world. In an extremist sense, the serpent could be a projection of man’s subconscious showing its true self. The serpent is shaped like man to show the deceit in humans and the wickedness they possess. Crumb does not call for a reformation of society, instead his view is darker. He does not think that man can improve from the destructive nature he has and will always possess.
An image of the serpent is also engraved on the back cover of the novel. The image is a circle with the serpent in the middle. It is depicted in faux gold plating and there are lines as if the serpent is radiating. The serpent is purposely depicted like God is depicted many times throughout the book: as a radiant, divine being. Crumb’s clear similarity between the “most wicked” creature and God, the most divine of all beings, creates a bizarre parallelism. Crumb argues that not only does man have an evil side, but so does the divine God. Crumb does not believe that the Lord is perfect, nor a savior. Instead, he thinks of him as the same as us, flawed with an evil that is inherited in our bones that cannot be fixed. Crumb argues that the fact that God even made as evil creatures as man and woman that he is evil.
The serpent represents Crumb’s overall views of humanity. He thinks that man is rooted in evil and has no chance of improvement. This can also be seen in the way he depicts man as a beast, as well as his depiction of the serpent as a man. In the documentary Crumb, he states: “I decided to reject conformity when society rejected me,” and that he “allowed the dark part of me to come out.” Crumb is showing he thinks the human race has and will always be evil. Everyone including himself and God have evil characteristics that will never go away.