The Sparrow

by Mary Doria Russell

Start Free Trial

In The Sparrow, what was the catalyst for the change of life on Rakhat? How are the benefits and dangers of first contact illustrated by the catalyst?

There were two catalysts for for the change of life on Rakhat. The first and most wide-reaching catalyst was the arrival of the aliens from Earth. The second was the earthlings’ introduction of cultivating plants. Overall, the first contact was dangerous because the earthlings disrupted the Rakhat people’s belief in their uniqueness and generated social unrest. The change to food production decreased infant mortality. This seems a positive benefit but it led to infanticide for population control.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Sparrow, the research expedition from Earth to Rakhat changed the planet’s life in numerous ways. Each of the changes had both positive and negative effects, but the author suggests that the cumulative effect was negative. The overall catalyst for change was simply the fact that aliens from another planet arrived on Rakhat. As its inhabitants could no longer believe that they were unique and alone in the universe, their worldview was destabilized. With the people now open to new ideas, the delicate balance of power was destroyed.

Among many new ideas and technologies that the earthlings brought with them, the most powerful catalyst for change was the transition to horticulture. The earthlings’ gardening quickly sparked a change that on Earth had been a transition over thousands of years .The increased food production had multiple ripple effects, including greater infant survival. The research team members saw this as a benefit to the Runa people, but they failed to realize that there was a desired maximum population. The babies would only survive a short time, not long enough to grow up. The Rakhat people’s fear of overpopulation led to infanticide as an attempt to regulate population growth, thus endangering the Runa more than benefitting them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team