Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Primitivity

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Primitivity

Aw yeah, the final part in our thematic Triforce. Primitivity pervades the novel in all three of its eras. Even though they are separated by six hundred years, each one sees humanity wallowing in its primitive nature. People start wars. They kill each other. And when the politics get all primeval, watch out. Although both religion and science seem poised to counter people's inner bent for destruction, neither of them succeeds. The novel might be suggesting that this aspect of human nature—not love or industry or civilization—is what makes us who we are. Perhaps humans and buzzards are not as far apart on the evolutionary tree as we thought.

Questions About Primitivity

  1. Do you think any of the characters in the novel manage to overcome their primitive natures? If yes, who? And how do they do it? If not, then why do you think this is?
  2. How does the character of Mad Bear relate to the theme of primitivity? Why do you think he gets his own chapter in Fiat Lux, while a character like Hannegan doesn't get his own chapter?
  3. Do you see any of the monks from the abbey characterized by primitivity? If so, who and why? If not, explain why not.
  4. Will humanity finally overcome its primitive nature in outer space? Why or why not? Don't forget to support your idea with evidence from the novel.

Chew on This

The Pope's children from Fiat Homo are characterized as the most primitive beings in the novel, but they are also the only characters who seem incapable of understanding ideas like ethics and morals.

Primitive behavior appears more often in politically minded characters than in scientifically or religiously minded characters.