A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 2-3

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New Characters
Leibowitz: a survivor of the nuclear war who founded the Order of Saint Leibowitz

Father Cheroki: a priest at the abbey

Brother Fingo: a monk who works in the abbey as a woodcarver

Francis whispers the litany of the Saints to help protect himself as he advances into the shelter. He slides into a room of the shelter and sees a sign reading, “Inner Hatch Sealed Environment,” and beneath the sign, a warning giving information about the hatch. However, the door to the hatch is blocked by tons of rock. So Francis starts looking around the room and sees a skull with a gold tooth in a corner of the room. Francis is disturbed by this gold tooth as he starts exploring the furnishings of the room, including an old metal desk. He finds it impossible to open the desk’s drawers, but sees a rusty box and manages to pry this box open. He climbs out of the hole to examine whatever is in the box. Francis finds that the box holds some tubes of glass with wire inside them, and a note written on paper inside the box’s lid. The note is signed “I. E. L.,” who says that he has to catch a plane in twenty minutes, and asks Carl, the recipient of the note, to get Em, Francis' wife, “on the alternate list for the shelter.” I. E. L., the note writer, could not get Em on the plane, which is why she needs to get into the shelter. I. E. L. says he doesn’t know if the war has started. Francis reads the note, then takes out some trays from the box to find some notes, papers, and a Memo notebook at the bottom of the box. One of the notes is a short list of groceries, another is a reminder to pick up IRS tax form 1040, and another is a list of numbers. The Memo book is a list of names, places, numbers, and dates, with the dates coming from the late 1940s and early 1950s. One of the folded papers has the words “Racing Form” on it, and the other is a blueprint of a circuit design by I. E. Leibowitz.

Francis assumes that this circuit design is by the Isaac Leibowitz honored by his abbey as the founder of its order and believed to be a saint. This would make the circuit design blueprint a relic of the so-called Saint Leibowitz, and Francis believes that this discovery confirms his fate of becoming a monk of the Order of Leibowitz. As twilight and night descend, Francis anticipates telling his abbey about his discovery, and wonders how the discovery will transform his abbey. Francis talks to the abbey’s Father Cheroki about his temptations to eat the pilgrim’s cheese, as well as a lizard, during his fast, and his anger at the pilgrim. Cheroki hears Francis’s confession, then hears Francis talk about discovering the material he believes was written by Saint Leibowitz, who died 600 years ago. Cheroki receives this claim skeptically and tells Francis that he is not healthy and should return to the abbey right away to recover. Cheroki leaves, and Francis takes another look at the shelter, packs up the box, and sees Brother Fingo from the abbey, with three donkeys. Francis tells Fingo about the discovery of the box and shows it to Fingo, who, like Cheroki, is skeptical. However, he goes over to look at the hole before Francis sets off for the abbey. Francis faints about a mile from the abbey, Cheroki picks him up, and...

(This entire section contains 831 words.)

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they ride back to the abbey on Cheroki's mare.

Francis’s exploration of the ancient fallout shelter reveals many things about the culture it came from. The tubes of glass are apparently transistors, which were used in televisions and radios of the 1950s. The Racing Form paper is probably a newspaper about horse racing, one of the sports’ standard publications. I. E. L. wrote his note after learning about the nuclear war and arranging to be on a flight away from the fallout zone of a nuclear blast. His wife, who he calls Em, had to stay behind, and he tried to get her into the shelter. I. E. L. presumably knew Carl would go the shelter and hoped Carl would be able to get Em into the shelter.

It is likely that the nuclear weapon explosion I. E. L. refers to would have come from the Soviet Union, which at the time was involved in the Cold War with America. The novel imagines that this Cold War became an actual war involving nuclear weapons and resulted in the near-total destruction of civilization. That destruction is why so many deformed people exist in Utah in the 2500s and why it is still in such a diminished state. It also explains why the relatively mundane items found in the box are so exciting and mysterious for Francis.


Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapter 1


Summary and Analysis: Part 1 (Fiat Homo), Chapters 4-5