Arthur’s dead son Isaac is more than a tragic detail – the boy’s fate and how it’s presented has deep ties to Red Dead Redemption 2’s themes.
By Charlie Stewart
Published Jun 13, 2021
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sprawling epic packed full of symbolism exploring decline, death, and the possibility of salvation. Arthur’s actions and the details of his fate depend on the player in part, but some of the most interesting aspects of the story are the ones set in stone, events which took place before the game even begins.
Arthur Morgan had a son, Isaac, with a waitress named Eliza. The tragic story of Arthur’s son has important implications for his relationship with Red Dead’s other protagonist, John Marston, but it also explores some of the major themes infused into Red Dead Redemption 2 in some unexpected ways.
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Arthur will mention Isaac first during the mission “Archeology for Beginners.” This part of the main story sees Arthur travel to the Wapiti Indian Reservation to help Rain Falls. While travelling the pair can talk about Arthur’s relationship with surrogate-father Dutch Van der Linde, his terminal tuberculosis diagnosis, and Isaac.
”You know, I had a son once, years ago. Don’t talk about it much?[…] His mother, Eliza, was a waitress I met. When she got pregnant… she knew who I was, what my life was. I didn’t want to promise nothing I couldn’t keep but I said I’d do right by them.”
As Arthur travels with Rain Falls, the Chieftain will collect various herbs he believes will ease Arthur’s suffering. Arthur goes on to explain the tragic fate that befell both Isaac and Eliza.
”I got there one day?and saw two crosses outside. I knew right away. Turned out some bastards had come through, robbed them, and shot them dead. And all for ten dollars. It hardened me, feeling that kind of pain. But I know now you don’t get to live a bad life and have good things happen to you.”
Isaac’s death contextualizes some of Arthur’s actions in the story. His particular disdain for John Marston abandoning Jack and Abigail for a year makes more sense, as does his comment that he once taught another boy how to fish when Arthur takes Jack Marston down to the river. However, the deeper symbolism of Isaac’s death, and the reason it’s introduced in such an indirect way, proves even more interesting.
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Isaac is first revealed as part of a broader moment of reflection, and it’s one of the first times Arthur Morgan truly opens up about his life and impending death. Isaac’s name can be taken as symbolic in some sense, a reference to the son Abraham had in the Bible.
While God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son in the Biblical tale, Arthur’s son was sacrificed in a sense, devoured by the same outlaw lifestyle Arthur and the other Van der Linde gang members committed their lives to. Arthur’s belief that “you don’t get to live a bad life and have good things happen to you” appeals to a cosmic justice just as Abraham does, but Arthur believes he is being punished for his life rather than rewarded for his piety.
It’s particularly interesting that Isaac’s death is so distanced from the plot of the main game. Eliza was originally planned as a second love interest for Arthur in the plot, before the character was cut from Red Dead Redemption 2. According to Arthur’s voice actor Roger Clark speaking at SacAnime Summer 2019, an earlier version of Isaac would have seen him as a?young child who froze to death as the Van der Linde gang sought shelter in the mountains at the start of the game, a direct victim of Arthur’s lifestyle.
In the retail release, the deaths of Isaac and Eliza are a painful but distant memory. Players get no insight into what either might have looked like, who killed them, or anything that happened beyond Arthur continuing his life with the Van der Linde gang.
Just as Isaac’s name is symbolic, the choice to distance Isaac’s death from the main story likely has connections to the symbolism behind Arthur’s own name. Arthur Morgan’s name makes a double reference to King Arthur and his nemesis, Morgan le Fay. The first mission after Arthur’s death is called “The Wheel,” a reference to the concept of the Wheel of Fortune in Thomas Malory’s?Le Morte d’Arthur?- The Death of Arthur.
The Wheel of Fortune is a metaphor for both the good and bad any person is destined to do on the road to their final fate, and the fortune and misfortune they will enjoy and suffer on the way that’s far beyond their control. While the mission is only called “The Wheel,” Jack Marston is reading Arthurian mythology throughout the story, and?several references are made in this mission in particular.
If Isaac had died at the beginning of the game as the gang fled the failed Blackwater job, his death may have felt too directly connected to Arthur’s actions to get to the true heart of Red Dead 2’s philosophy. By having the deaths of Isaac and Eliza be a tragic footnote in Arthur’s past, players are encouraged to consider just how little control the characters in Red Dead have over their lives and fates. It’s as Dutch’s?final words?go: “We can’t fight change. We can’t fight gravity. We can’t fight nothing.”
Isaac’s murder by robbers may ironically reflect Arthur’s own lifestyle, but misfortune plays just as big a role as Arthur’s agency. The same can be said of Arthur’s terminal illness, which he contracts beating a man with tuberculosis to death. Red Dead’s characters are shown to be able to affect the world, and can certainly choose whether or not to do good or evil. However, they’re shown to have very little control over the consequences of their actions, or what might be awaiting them when the Wheel of Fortune next spins. Depending on the player’s decisions, Arthur can learn to accept that as he approaches his death, and try to do good regardless.
Red Dead Redemption 2?is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Stadia, and Xbox One.
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