The Sparrow Themes

The main themes in The Sparrow are family, faith and doubt, sexuality and celibacy, and intercultural impact.

  • Family: The members of the mission to Rakhat, many of whom have been denied traditional forms of family, create a family among themselves.
  • Faith and doubt: The novel does not supply answers to the characters’ spiritual doubts, instead portraying faith as fluid and complex.
  • Sexuality and celibacy: Sexual desire is an acknowledged part of life for each of the characters, including those who have taken religious vows of celibacy.
  • Intercultural impact: Despite the crew’s best efforts, the mission ultimately has a devastating intercultural impact on Rakhat.


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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1298


Many of the characters in The Sparrow are marked by the loss of family or the yearning to have a family. Sofia Mendes, orphaned at a young age, finds family while on Rakhat; she learns how to share love and affection by watching Anne and eventually marries and conceives a child with Jimmy. Emilio’s suffering is a result of Supaari’s longing for family; Supaari trades Emilio to Hlavin Kitheri in exchange for being named a “Founder,” giving him the right to have children.

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While Emilio’s path of celibacy requires him to forfeit sex, the more difficult sacrifice for him is the loss of family. At one point in the novel, Emilio knows that Sofia is in love with him and would marry him if he was willing. Although it pains him deeply, Emilio remains committed to celibacy and gives his unspoken blessing for Sofia and Jimmy to marry. After D.W. and Anne die, Sofia attempts to comfort Emilio by placing his hand on her pregnant belly. She means for this gesture, and for the baby’s movement, to remind Emilio that life goes on; instead, it sends him into deeper grief.

Anne and George, married over four decades, were never able to have children. Through their hospitality, however, they create a sense of family among the group. Settled into life on Rakhat, Anne reflects on the “semi-family” they’ve created. After Anne’s death, ties are strengthened through the group’s shared grief. Jimmy tells Emilio that he’s part of their family, and Sofia tells George that he will be a grandfather to their unborn baby.

Although some characters are denied a traditional family, the novel presents a view of family as one that can be created among friends. These relationships are presented as more beautiful than Supaari’s desire to simply reproduce.

Faith and Doubt

The characters in The Sparrow are not easily divided into those who believe and those who do not. Instead, faith is portrayed as a complex journey.

Among the characters who profess Christianity, and have even committed to the life of a priest, faith is fluid, and doubts are real. Emilio openly acknowledges the doubts he experienced, and continues to experience, long after becoming a priest. During Alan Pace’s funeral, Marc Robichaux suggests that “perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable.” Rather than giving confident answers to difficult questions, the priests in the novel bring refreshing honesty to their discussions of faith.

On the other side, among characters that do not readily identify as religious, there are still moments of faith. When the Stella Maris leaves Earth, Anne experiences a moment of clarity and certainty in the existence of God. Even George, who doesn’t show interest in religion, has moments where he is drawn “to the beauty of belief.”

Various characters in the novel pursue a sense of meaning, trying to discern the action of God in their lives. “A turtle on a fencepost” becomes shorthand in the book for a coincidence that seems to point to the will of God. Emilio is deeply convinced that the mission is the will of God; even near the end, after having already endured the death of his...

(The entire section contains 1298 words.)

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