The main theme of “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke deals with faith. Clarke defines faith as having belief and trust in God with strong conviction. Clarke believes that one must have faith not only during blissful times, such as during the time of creation, but also during time of anguish, such as when destruction occurs. God “created” when a star flew over Bethlehem, just as God destroyed a star, the Phoenix Nebula, and its surrounding planets including any life that may have lived there. God does not have to justify His actions to man. God can do as he pleases, his actions do not have to follow a logical sequence. Just because negative events are occurring does not mean that God does not exist. A minor theme in the story deals with believing two ideas, religion and science, that completely contradict each other. “The Star” combines these drastically different ideas into one story.
The protagonist is a renaissance man. He is both a scientist and a religious man; more specifically a chief astrophysicist of a spaceship and a Jesuit. He is having trouble deciding if he should keep his faith. He is also a very intelligent man that published many scientific articles in the Astrophysical Journal and in the Royal Astronomical Society Notices. He also seems to resemble the Greek philosopher Socrates; he questions everything and he does not accept new ideas easily. His main goal is to explore a star that exploded, the Phoenix Nebula. As the story progresses the protagonist regains his faith. From the beginning of the story when he questions if the crucifix still stands for something to the end of the story when he accepts that God does what He does for a reason.
The antagonists in the story are nature and the ship crew. The main goal of the antagonists is to make the protagonist give up his faith in God. The ship crew is flat for the most part and their main job is to operate the ship and to convince the protagonist that God does not exist. The ship crew is filled with doctors and scientists and most of them are atheists. Nature causes an array of disasters to occur such as the explosion of the Phoenix Nebula and this makes the protagonist question his faith. The antagonists do not change through out the story.
The story takes place around the year 2500 in a spaceship that is traveling through space. Space is some what symbolic for science, and science usually contradicts religion, therefore the setting is another antagonist trying to make the protagonist lose his faith. The main conflicts of the story are of the type man verses self, man verses group, and man verses nature. The protagonist is no longer sure if he should keep his faith in God. The first event that causes the protagonist to question his faith is when he witnesses the explosion of a star, the Phoenix Nebula. The protagonist is having trouble deciding how God, something that he believes in so strongly, could do something as harsh as destroy a star and thus all its surrounding planets with any life that might have lived there. The spaceship then reaches the Phoenix Nebula galaxy and the crew notices that one of the planets, which resembles Pluto in our galaxy, is still left because it was further away from the star. When the spaceship lands on this mysterious planet they find a vault with all the belongings of a civilization that once inhabited this planet.
The protagonist cannot understand why God would destroy their galaxy, he says, “they were not evil…to be destroyed so completely in the full flower of achievement, leaving no survivors – how could that be reconciled with the mercy of God?” At this point the protagonist decides that he had too much, and just as he is about to give up his faith there is a turning point, which is also the high point of the story. The protagonist comes to a realization that God does not have to justify His actions to man and that God destroys just as he creates. The reconciliation is that the protagonist accepts this new view of God and he once again regains his faith. The protagonist will probably decide that seeing the destruction of civilizations is too much for him to bare and he will finally retire from being an astrophysicist and instead he will devout his entire time to religion.
Most of the symbols in the story deal with religion and faith in God. The crucifix hanging in the protagonist’s cabin room resembles God and all the faith that the protagonist has in Him. The protagonist looks at the crucifix and he wonders if it really means anything any more. This event is when the protagonist first questions his faith. Two more symbols in the story that represent faith are the Ruben engravings of Loyola, which is a well known paining of Loyola by a famous artist by the name of Paul Ruben. The other symbol is Exercitia Spiritualia, which is a book written by Loyola that Jesuits use for guidance. The protagonist uses both of these symbols to decide if his faith is worth keeping. In the end of the story a symbol of a star that passes of Bethlehem is mentioned; this refers to the star of Bethlehem, which has long been a symbol of Christianity or of God “creating.” This is what causes the protagonist to regain his faith since God is “creating” as opposed to destroying here.
Through out the whole story the protagonist questions his faith. He has a hard time understanding how God, something he believes in with all his passion, could do something so ruthless as destroy a whole galaxy and with it a whole civilization. The protagonist then comes to a realization that God does both good and evil, and therefore faith should be kept in God whether or not good things are happening. “The Star” is a quality story for the most part that has withstood the test of time. The story has a sense of suspense; it really makes you wonder what will happen next. For example, as you read the story you wonder what will the crew find on the mysterious planet. The story has good balance as it magnificently ties in two different ideologies: religion and science.
The story jumps from the protagonist’s inner thinking to action and back to the inner thinking. The story nonly entertains, but also teaches us lessons in astronomy and in religion. The reader is able to learn about the solar system and how God works. The story is authentic for the most part because it makes you feel like you are really in the spaceship five hundred years into the future. However, the story mentions the Mark VI computer; this is a computer that was used in the 1950s. The mentioning of this computer causes the reader to feel that they are flying at light speed in the year 2500, while using a 1950s computer.