Ever since Ryan Murphy revealed that every season of American Horror Story was connected, fans have been busy theorizing what ties them all together. There are many hypotheses out there, but there is one that clearly rules them all: that American Horror Story is a modern take on Dante's Inferno.
For those who are a little rusty on their 14th-century Italian literature, Dante's Inferno is the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy. In Inferno, Dante is led through the nine circles of Hell by his guide Virgil. Each of the circles is dedicated to a specific type of sinner, with the circles gradually increasing in wickedness until ultimately culminating at the center of the Earth where Satan himself resides. The nine circles of Hell are - in descending order - Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. Within each circle, the sinners are subjected to a punishment befitting their specific type of crime.
What the American Horror Story-Inferno theory, first posed by Red Herry, posits is that every season of the FX drama represents one of the circles of Hell depicted in Dante's poem, an idea supported by the fact that each season is largely enclosed in a single physical space (the murder house, Briarcliffe, Madame Robichaux's, Elsa's freak show and the Hotel Cortez). While every season of Horror Story includes a bevy of different sins, each installment can also be seen as having a distinct overarching theme that correlates to one of the circles of Hell, as detailed below:
Murder House: Lust - Everyone in Murder House was imprisoned by their own lust and inability to control their carnal appetites. Ben cheated on Vivien with Hayden. Tate raped Vivien. Patrick cheated on Chad. Larry had an affair with Constance, whose husband raped Moira. If you look back on the season, allmost every problem in Murder House can be traced back to some type of lustful sin.
Asylum: Fraud - While many point to Violence as Asylum's corresponding circle of Hell, that fails to capture the nuance of Asylum's inmates and captors. Nearly everyone in Briarcliffe struggles against some sort of fraud - there's the seducer Shelley, the corrupt members of the Catholic church, the manipulative imposter Oliver Thredson, the hypocritical Dr. Arden and even Lana, whose lies got her trapped in Briarcliffe in the first place.
Coven: Treachery - What separates the treacherous from the fraudulent is that they must betray a special kind of relationship - the betrayal of family ties, community ties, guests or liege lords. Sound familiar? Cordelia is betrayed by her husband Hank and she also betrays her mother Fiona. Kyle and Luke's mothers betray their sons with rape and bleach enemas. Delphine betrays her daughters. All of the witches in Coven betray each other. The list goes on and on.
Freak Show: Greed - Is there anyone more greedy than Elsa Mars? She was willing to do anything - even betray her monsters - in order to get fame and fortune. The same can be said of Stanely and Maggie, who sought nothing more than a few dollars at the expense of the freaks' lives. Even Dandy was motivated by an insatiable hunger for more, going so far as to treat human beings as trophies to collect.
Hotel: Gluttony - Life at the Hotel Cortez is defined by excess. Whether the residents are indulging in blood, alcohol, drugs, sex or violence, they completely surrender themselves to their vices. There's even a literal Addiction Demon haunting the halls lest you had any doubts as to Hotel's overarching theme.
The Dante's Inferno theory could also explain why the same actors recur in different roles. If American Horror Story is the various circles of Hell, then the doppelgängers may represent different incarnations of the same soul being punished for various sins they committed in their lifetime. Because if Voldemort can splinter his soul into seven pieces, then why wouldn't couldn't that also work in Hell?
But the best part of the theory has to be this little twist: If American Horror Story is Dante's Inferno, that would make us, the audience, Dante and Ryan Murphy our trusted guide Virgil. (Don't worry. At the end of the poem Dante and Virgil both survive and escape Hell.)
What do you think of the Dante's Inferno theory?