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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310

The Sibyl contrasts the experiences of two distinct characters, the Sibyl and her visitor, to raise complex theological issues. Although the book’s setting is classical times, the religious questions raised bring the reader forward in time to those raised in the New Testament. Although the author stops short of naming Jesus, he alludes to the Father and Son in singular terms, suggesting that the Sibyl’s son represents Christ. In related associations, the human failings of the Sibyl, who had sexual relations both with a man and a god (in animal form) suggest comparison with Mary, who remained chaste yet gave birth to a divine child.

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Similarly, in fleshing out the story of the man who visits the Sibyl, Pär Lagerkvist suggests that we should not only ask the questions that he asked, about the nature of mortality, but also question the basis of his condemnation. Is this visitor a stand-in for all humankind, destined never to wrest answers from God about our most fundamental concerns? Or is he intended as a singular character who lapsed once by failing to extend charity? If the latter, was his punishment fair or too severe?

Lagerkvist concludes the story with the disappearance and ascent of the man who personifies innocence, as the Sybil’s son is physically an adult but, apparently, mentally still a child. In doing so, the author raises additional questions about the relationship between ignorance and knowledge. In one sense, the son is like the visitor, in that he did not die; instead, he ceased to exist on this world. The reader is left to decipher whether the visitor’s ultimate fate might be in his own hands: if his faith remains strong, he might be called to God, but his constant questioning of divine will might have the effect of prolonging, rather than resolving, his unsettled state.

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Critical Essays