Style and Technique

Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star” won a Hugo Award for best short story of the year. First published in Infinity Science Fiction, it has been widely anthologized since then. Many of Clarke’s stories have religious themes or elements.

“The Star” makes ample use of symbols. It opens with a description of the juxtaposition of the Jesuit’s crucifix with the astrophysicist’s computer. The dichotomies of the narrator’s life are thus immediately apparent. The narrator’s picture of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, which historically has been dedicated to education—bringing light—is juxtaposed with the tracings from his spectrophotometer, which measures another kind of light. The two concepts of light and enlightenment have come together. The narrator even wonders what the pictured man would have made of the pictured tracings.

Another important symbol in the work is the phoenix. The Phoenix Nebula is the supernova the ship has come to study. In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that dies and is reborn out of the ashes of its pyre. The phoenix has been used as a symbol for Jesus and for Christianity because it seems to die but, rather than remaining ashes, it rises from the dead to live again. This is the hope that Christians have for themselves and a major part of the belief they have in Jesus as the Christ. One might argue that out of the funeral pyre of this lost race came the birth of the new race of...

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Historical Context

The 1950s: U.S.-Soviet Rivalry and the ‘‘Red Scare’’
Arthur C. Clarke wrote ‘‘The Star’’ during a time...

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This story is set in 2500 A.D., on a space traveling ship that has left Earth, arrived at a distant planetary nebula around a star that went...

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Literary Style

Point of View and Narration
‘‘The Star’’ is a first person narration by an astrophysicist who is also a...

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Literary Qualities

There seems to be general agreement among critics and readers that either "The Star" or "The Nine Billion Names of God" is Clarke's best...

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Social Sensitivity

"It is three thousand light-years to the Vatican," the story begins, and immediately the reader is far from home and far from now, caught up...

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Compare and Contrast

  • 1954: There are 32,501 Jesuit priests, brothers, and scholars in the world, with 7,630 in the United States....

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Topics for Discussion

1. When one travels far from home, does one leave everything of home behind, including behaviors, beliefs, or traditions?

2. Is...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. What is the history of the development of the scientific method? Why is it believable for Clarke to write a Jesuit character as an...

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Topics for Further Study

  • ‘‘The Star’’ is an example of an interior monologue. Do you think that the narrator’s doubts heighten the suspense of the...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

"The Star" was the final story in a collection of Clarke's stories that appeared under the title The Nine Billion Names of God. An...

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What Do I Read Next?

  • The Nine Billion Names of God: The Best Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (1967) by...

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For Further Reference

Clarke, Arthur C. The Nine Billion Names of God, New York: Ballantine/Signet, 1967. A collection of works, including "The Star."


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Bibliography and Further Reading

Clarke, Arthur C. The Other Side of the Sky. Signet, 1959, p. vi.

Hollow, John....

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