Review of Human Qualities from the Novel The Bright Red Star by Bud Sparkawk

Life events often inspire other ideas and arguments sometimes expressed through literature. Unable to control enormous occurrences, writers comment through various themes of work. Like the rest of the world on September 11, 2001, Bud Sparhawk struggled to come to terms with the infliction of merciless acts on other humans. Sparhawk translates his frustrating experiences with inhumanity onto paper, highlighting certain qualities of humans that together form the complexity of human condition. Using the theme of sacrifice, Sparhawk defines the features of human condition as both common and inevitable to human existence. “Bright Red Star” demonstrates the many faces of ignorance, bravery in all its forms, the decency of humans and their common need for connection.

Acts of bravery are revealed by humans in different ways in times of necessity. “Bright Red Star” underlines simple acts of bravery as displayed by sacrificing individuals for external causes. With the line, “I placed my finger on the detonator” Captain Savage bravely gives up his human appearance, buries his emotion and inevitably gives his life for the cause of defeating the Shardies (124). He also shields the innocence of a little girl, Becky, and although he knows in the end he must kill her, he does so to protect her from a death much worse. “I thought of Truett, and the way he had bravely shielded Becky to the last,” (124). Savage recognizes Truett’s valor in shielding Becky from the truth of her cruel but necessary fate. Truett distracts Becky when he says, “Just look up. There, to the right of that big, bright red star.” (124). He bears the full weight of the situation in an attempt to protect Becky’s innocence yet sacrificing his own self. Both the strength of oneself and the willingness to protect others are essential components of bravery in human condition.
The human need for connection to others and to memory is an irrevocable trait that may be suppressed but never lost. Captain Savage is not far from machine physically, but emotionally he remains attached to the most human of feelings and memories. “I still remember the smell of autumn, the feeling of mud between my toes, and how it felt to kill my prize sheep when it was time” (123). Although Savage struggles to stifle his emotions to remain detached and avoid pain while fighting for mankind, he never loses the memories of what made him human. Savage also connects to Becky immediately and feels a sense of need to protect her, as when Robbarts refers to Becky as “a little bitch” (121). Deep down Robbarts’ harsh tone strikes Savage the wrong way and later when he is forced to kill Robbarts he does so without remorse and saying “you really shouldn’t have said that about Becky” (122). Savage’s level of connection to Becky is almost fatherly though he has only known her a very short time. “Truett grabbed my hand and squeezed. ‘I just want you to know…’ he began and choked off whatever he was going to say” (123). Truett and Savage only knew each other for less than an hour but they connect to each other because they are similar in their need to build emotional relationships as humans, especially knowing their doomed fates. Even in a time of despair the need for connection to others and to hope remains.
Through connection to others, humans form bridges of emotion perhaps strengthened even further by a world-shattering situation. This bridge of connection may be apparent as a sort of decency towards others that comes as instinct. In “Bright Red Star” the suicide troopers give their lives to protect the lives of others from facing the wrath of the heartless Shardies. The Shardies are callous and cruel in their use of humans as instruments to further their own war, and so it is the mission of the troopers to protect civilians even if it means killing them rather than allowing their capture by Shardies. Captain Savage expresses his thoughts as he kills Becky saying: “I hoped that she didn’t have enough time to realize what I had done. What I had to do” (124). Savage does not kill Becky without thought; he does so understanding the magnitude of his actions and as a mechanism of protection. Human decency here is developed through Savage’s true belief that the death of the civilians is inevitable and so he spares their dignity and any further advancement on the part of the Shardies by controlling how they die. Truett demonstrates compassion in his preservation of Becky’s innocence by shielding her form the bitter truth of their fate. “Well,’ he said to Becky, ‘Looks like we’ve got a ship to catch,’ he said cheerily” (123). Rather than destroy her hopes, Truett preserves them within the young girl’s innocence and spares her from the harshness of reality. Protection of weaker individuals from an unnecessary truth for no personal gain is decency at its strongest.
The role of ignorance in human condition is both a method of self-preservation and a level of disregard that hinders one’s ability to appreciate what they do not understand. In “Bright Red Star”, Sparhawk uses ignorant civilians to demonstrate individuals who fail to see the larger picture of their actions; instead of listening to the instructions to flee their planet, they disregard the warnings and remain in their homes. This not only makes them susceptible to Shardie capture but puts the lives of others in danger. Rather than question external consequences, the civilians assume the war against the Shardies is not their responsibility, as when Mr. Robbarts says, “But we’re civilians, not some combat trained space jockey” (122). His disdainful tone and lack of understanding of the situation highlights his severe ignorance and willingness to put the weight of the situation on others. In his leadership role, Mr. Robbarts could have saved his small community had he been aware; instead his failure to accept ideas and information costs him his life. Captain Savage’s partner, Hunter, demonstrates an emotionally based level of ignorance in that he fails to feel empathy with civilians who desire to remain on their home planet. “Civilians just don’t understand, do they?” (124). Hunter’s lack of compassion and impatience with the civilians’ sentiments makes him ignorant while describing the ignorance of others. His lack of respect for ideas other than his own is highlighted when he says: “Burials waste time, something we can’t afford” (121). Hunter equates times to human sentiment as though comparable; Savage is able to find a level of respect for the civilians and relate to them while Hunter lacks this ability.
Captain Savage displays ignorance on a subconscious level in effort to protect himself from pain. His role as a suicide trooper demands that he must kill others, and inevitably himself. By distancing himself from real emotion he attempts to strengthen his self. “I gently laid Becky’s lifeless body on the ground, trying not to feel” (124). Blocking out his natural emotions to feel pain after killing Becky is ignorance as a method of preventing pain. Perhaps the strongest instance of ignorance comes from the Shardies and their insular behavior in the seeming pointlessness of their war on humans. They make no attempts to contact the humans or explain the reason for their ferocious attacks; only mercilessly destroying what is different from them. “What we do know for certain is that either the Shardies will be destroyed, or we will be. Humanity has lost too much, too many, for compromise. It is clear that there can be no middle ground” (118).The Shardies are ignorant of the significance of human life. They consider the humans to be worthless, only seeing the benefit in “using human brains to defeat human defenses” (120). Their intolerance of an entire race demonstrates ignorance at a cultural level, irrationally considering a set of beliefs different from their own to be inferior. Ignorance is a multifaceted component of human condition that is a rejection of both something unknown and unwanted.
In “Bright Red Star” Sparhawk defines human tendencies by its subparts - the instinct to demonstrate courage, along with the desire for human connection in times of uncertainty. Although there are instances of injustice and indifference in the history of existence, such times of uncertainty can also bring out human decency that has fallen to the backgrounds of an otherwise self-interested society. Ignorance is critical to the concept of human condition for its frequent appearance in the habits of humans as a means of protection and of failure to understand. Contrast amongst cultures can create turmoil and destruction of life. But it is in these same times of cruelty and prejudice that the most human of traits can be exhibited; it is the choice to act on the part of the individual that defines the gray areas of right and wrong.