The Sparrow

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, is a story with so many odd and ironic twists that it can blind you from the philosophical ideas that Mary is really trying to throw out there. With a group of people traveling on an asteroid on the quest to learn about alien life, it seems more like an action packed science-fiction novel than a book with religious and moral issues. But Mary's incredible skills as a storyteller forces readers to truly tests their knowledge and beliefs. The main character, Emilio Sandoz, looks at the Stella Maris mission not only as a way to be the first to make contact with alien life forms, but also as a quest to find God, since in his eyes, this amazing journey must be God showing him his purpose. Sofia Mendes, who grew up having a rough childhood, ends up with a tough and cold personality as an adult that steers her away from a religious lifestyle. Anne Edwards is the Agnostic out of the bunch, dealing with all the standards of God around her. Though different in their religious beliefs, the experiences that Sofia, Emilio, and Anne have gone through have shaped their faithfulness to God or their hesitancy to believe.
Sofia Mendes is introduced in the novel as a stern Jewish woman. Christianity has a close relationship with Judaism, both historically and theologically. Despite its Jewish origins, it was not long before Christianity regarded itself as something other than a new Jewish sect. Christians have criticized Jews for rejecting Jesus as their messiah, and Jews have criticized Christians for corrupting the concept of one God and following a false messiah.
Within the novel, Sofia's keeps her religious opinions to herself. Although she does say a few Jewish phrases here and there, it doesn't seem that Mary wants to define her as very religious. She grew up losing both of her parents at an extremely young age. Leaving her with nothing, she had to decide how she was going to make money to survive. She felt with no other option that she would have to turn to prostitution, selling herself to much older men. Ironically, this lifestyle lead her to meet a man that would help her become the business woman she grew up to be. But the harsh memories of her past created her to be extremely stand-offish with other strangers, especially men. “All she had to do was learn an astronomer’s job and then do it faster, cheaper and more accurately than he could do it himself. She resisted both hope and fear. Either could weaken you” (Russell 65). Her goal was to get her work done, not to make friends. But that changed later in the book as she became close with the entire group, and eventually fell in love and got married to Jimmy Quinn. It’s obvious that the death of her parents and her prostitution created her into someone who tends to shy away from using God as reasoning for things.
Anne Edwards is a wife, a physician, and a dear friend of Emilio Sandoz. She is Agnostic, often frustrated by the group's constant usage of God for all reasons. Agnosticism is a form of skepticism that holds that the existence that God cannot be logically proved or disproved. Often times Agnosticism is confused with Atheism, which claims there is no God.
Being the doctor of the Rakhat mission, Anne is constantly on duty due to the several illnesses that occurred throughout their adventure. She has the same pressure as God does to be a 'miracle worker', however, she feels that God rarely receives the blame for casualties like she does. An example would be Alan Pace's death, where after her thorough autopsy, found no signs of what could have caused it. Yet, others refused to believe that there couldn't be a cause of death, so they began bombarding Anne with several suggestions. Instead of answering, Anne's anger burst out, not understanding why people can't just except that maybe God just felt that Alan's time was up. “Why is that so hard to accept, gentlemen? Why is it that God gets all the credit for the good stuff, but it’s the doctor’s fault when shit happens? When the patient comes through, it’s always ‘Thank God,’ and when the patient dies, it’s always blame the doctor” (Russell 198). The experiences that she has such as these puts so much frustration in her system that is steers her away from truly having full faith in God.
Emilio Sandoz is Jesuit priest, desperately trying to find his way towards God. Being a Jesuit, he is the member of the Roman Catholic religious order or the Society of Jesus. He is part of the largest single religious order, devoted to the pope and ruled by its general who lives in Rome. Jesuit training can last for more than 15 years. They spend 2 years in spiritual training, after which he takes the simple vows of the regulars – chastity, poverty and obedience. Then as a scholastic, he spends 13 years and sometimes longer in study and teaching, completed by an additional year of spiritual training.
Emilio felt that becoming a Jesuit would create some good in his life. Before his training, his beliefs about God weren't very concrete, but thought that after the many years of dedication, he would eventually believe. As a middle-aged man, however, it turned out that he still had doubts. “If he could not put his faith directly in God, who remained unknowable, he could place it in the structure of the Society and in his superiors – in D.W. Yarbrough and in Father General da Silva” (Russell 111). He lacked any kind of revelation within his life at the time that took his mind into a greater spiritual place. While reading the first half of the book, it is confusing why in the early 2000s he was eager on his journey towards God, but in the later years his love affair with him is completely over. When Jimmy Quinn discovered the alien-like music coming from Alpha Centauri and a trip to the planet was starting to become probable, something seemed to switch in Emilio's head. “It became more apparent to him that he was truly called to walk this strange and difficult, this unnatural and unutterable path to God, which required not poetry or piety but simple endurance and patience” (Russell 160). To him, this mission only meant one thing: God wants him to go. So Emilio became hopeful and started to open his heart to God. He didn't know that once he would reach the planet that would be the beginning of the end for him and God.
Alan Pace's unexplainable death was the first test for Emilio. Why would God bring him all the way there just to die? Not giving up hope yet, Emilio assumed that there had to be a reason and that they would find out why eventually. As they went on living with the Runa, they all could tell that D.W. Yarbrough was getting strangely sicker and sicker and would not be living for very much longer. Since Emilio knew his death was on its way, he did not show any signs of anger about it. When Anne passed away with him by a horrible attack of a Vahaptaa, Emilio fell silent about the situation considering there was far less dialogue with him in those years on the planet. Before they knew it, the gardening they had taught the Runa upset the Jana'ata by the amount of new babies that were born. Because of Sofia's rebellion with the killing of the new borns, both her, Jimmy, and several other rebellious Runa were slaughtered, leaving Marc and Emilio to be taken capture.
What Emilio experienced on his last months on Rakhat were things that took him years to finally confess. To be abused and raped for a long period of time is one thing. But than to be taken back to Earth only to receive accusations of murder and prostitution, left his soul only filled with anger. “John, if God did this, it is hell of a trick to pull on a celibate. And if God didn’t do it, what does that make me? An unemployed linguist, with a lot of dead friends” (Russell 399). A man who once had complete faith in God and trusted that he was leading him in the right direction, has taken a complete 180 having no faith in him at all.
All of these different experiences that each individual has can steer one to either have more, less, or even no faith at all in God. It's less about the discovery of new life forms on other planets, and more about the experiences that each character of the The Sparrow has that truly shape this story. The events within the story test the characters beliefs, and the story tests the reader's beliefs. “I wanted readers to look philosophically at the idea that you can be seduced by the notion that God is leading you and that you actions have his approval” (Russell, ‘A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell). How far should a true believer of God really go? Is it safe to let yourself be vulnerable and assume that God is leading you? People will always have their different opinions. It looks as if this book is answering that question with a no. But instead, it really is a book that is made to ask you questions; to make you think. It was not written to make you steer one way or the other. Its purpose is to exercise your brain and allow you to learn about different religious opinions. “The Sparrow allowed me to look at the place of religion in the lives of many people and to weigh the risks and the beauties of religious belief from the comfort of my own home” (Russell ‘A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell’).

Works Cited
Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow. New York: Mary Doria Russell and The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc, 1997.

The Sparrow 8.8 of 10 on the basis of 748 Review.