Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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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