A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller Jr.

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Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapters 29-30

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Father Lehy is receiving Zerchi’s confession of his sin against Cors. As Zerchi confesses, he sees Mrs. Grales waiting for him. He prays for twenty minutes as penance, then moved to the confessional to see Mrs. Grales. She tells him she feels “the Dread One about” and needs to confess. She also forgives God for making her deformed, which Zerchi reluctantly accepts. As she begins to confess, missiles are heard being fired, and Zerchi quickly absolves her and tells her to say ten Ave Marias and ten Pater Noster prayers for penance. The sky grows bright from the exploding missiles, and suddenly Mrs. Grales’s voice changes into a soft, sleepy murmur. It says, “I never meant to … I never meant to … never love … Love … ” The church falls in, and Zerchi finds himself thrown out of the church, and covered with debris from the waist down, with one arm pinned. More missiles are heard, and as Zerchi begins to pick up Communion wafers, he hears Mrs. Grales say, “JesusMaryJoseph! Help!” in the same changed voice. Zerchi feels an itching in his legs, then a raw agony and terror. Sensing that he is near death, he thinks about how the desire for security has led to this nuclear war, and also about man’s evil. Zerchi asks God to let him live long enough to endure his suffering and grabs a skull, which has fallen out of the abbey’s crypts.

Zerchi hears Mrs. Grales sing, “la la la,” and regrets not telling Cors that pain gives meaning to courage, bravery, nobility, and self-sacrifice. He sleeps for awhile, then wakes to see three crows standing in the rubble near him. After throwing a stone to chase them away, he hears Mrs. Grales again. She walks over to him, and repeats his request for her to see if she can find Father Lehy. After looking at her closely, Zerchi says, “Rachel.” Mrs. Grales’s second head is smiling, while her other head is sleeping. She repeats his question, “Listen, is anyone else alive?” He sees that Mrs. Grales is now younger and healthier, although bleeding from one of her arms. Zerchi starts to baptize this second head, but she turns away, then picks up the ciborium and holds it, as well as a single communion wafer. Zerchi takes the wafer from her, and she puts the ciborium down. Zerchi realizes who Rachel is, and he whispers a prayer as he considers that Rachel is linked to Eve and is a creature of primal innocence. Rachel says “Live” to him before she leaves, and Zerchi waits for his death, having “seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection.”

The scene shifts to the monks, sisters, and children who are boarding the starship as nuclear weapons burst in the sky. The last monk to board the starship takes a look back at the ocean and the nuclear glow spreading over the sky. He says, “sic transit mundus,” and the starship takes off.

The fact that Rachel did not exist when Mrs. Grales was born, along with her sudden emergence during the nuclear war, strongly suggests that she carries tremendous significance. The novel hints that she is linked to Eve somehow, but aside from her, like Eve, having primal ignorance, also known as being unaware of sin, the link is vague. Nonetheless, her final word to Zerchi of “Live,” her holding the communion wafer, and his seeing the promise of resurrection in her eyes, suggests that she is also somehow linked to Christ, and God. The novel has already...

(This entire section contains 743 words.)

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had Rachel tell Joshua in a dream that she is the Immaculate Conception, which means that she was born without sin, like Mary, the mother of Christ.

The final scene, with its image of the Church departing Earth in the starship, and the last monk to board the ship looking back at the nuclear fire that is covering the planet, conveys both a message of survival and a poignancy over mankind’s failure to preserve itself. Thanks to its prudence and determination, the Church is able to escape Earth and keep itself alive, but mankind has not learned the lessons of the long-ago nuclear war. So, the novel seems to be saying that the Church, as an institution, has become wiser than the individuals who make up mankind and, therefore, is able to avoid the fate common humanity suffers from the nuclear war.


Summary and Analysis: Part 3 (Fiat Voluntas Tua), Chapters 27-28