Study Questions for A Case of Conscience: Chapters 5-9 [50-102]

Some of the issues represented in these chapters continue and expand upon the conflicts among Review Commission members and the descriptions of Lithian biology and society that we identified through the novel's initial chapters. However, the primary emphasis of the chapters ending Book One seems to be Father Ruiz-Sanchez's coming to understand Lithia as a "set up," an attempt by Satan to undermine the human race. Consider some of the following issues as you read these chapters:

  1. Paul Cleaver's motives in lying to Ruiz-Sanchez, Michelis, and Agronski are finally revealed in Chapter Six. What exactly is Cleaver's agenda and how is his plan for Lithia coincident with Blish's early portrayal of the character? See especially 67-69 & 71-72.
  2. The novel opens with an allusion to the central problem of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, a novel placed on the Index Expurgatorius by the Church. In Chapter Five, Ruiz-Sanchez prides himself on unraveling the problem posed to Anita in Joyce's novel and in the intellectual defeat of the Adversary that he imagines through his solution. How does this event prepare us for later events in the novel? How does Ruiz-Sanchez's obsession with the puzzle of Joyce's text further the novel's address to the relation of reason to faith?
  3. How would you summarize Ruiz-Sanchez's argument for quarantining Lithia? In what ways does Blish create a sense of plausibility for that argument? While this is a presentation about the priest's faith, does Ruiz-Sanchez's argument incorporate elements of reason and science? Elements common to science fiction? Consider, for example, his comments on parallel evolution [85-87], his reference to Philip Henry Gosse [95], and to Philip Auguste Haeckel [97]. The latter two are historical figures whose positions conflicted in the 19th century.
  4. While Blish continues his references to Finnegan's Wake in these chapters, he also incorporates allusions to other literary texts, especially to Dante with "This has been willed where what is willed must be" (87). The reference is to Dante's Inferno, Canto III, lines 91-93, where the poet, Virgil, commands Charon at the river Styx to allow him and Dante to pass into the underworld. The lines are often cited as an inducement to understand that one needs reason to distinguish between good and evil, to recognize sin or evil and back away from it. How do these lines prepare for Ruiz-Sanchez's extended argument about Lithia and its inhabitants?
  5. What is the impact of the gift that Chtexa gives to Ruiz-Sanchez as the expedition prepares to return to Earth? Symbolically, what will the priest be bringing into his own society on Earth?