Mendel’s Dwarf: Three perspectives on religion and genetics

Three characters in the novel Mendel’s Dwarf wrestle to reconcile faith with the role of genetics and sexuality in their lives. Gregor Mendel is “a priest who had managed a remarkable separation of faith from daily life” (Mawer 171). Mendel struggles to integrate the two separate realms of his life: pious priest and dedicated clergyman with the objective, pioneering scientist. For Mendel, it seems to be easier to simply compartmentalize the two separate personalities that comprised his being. In the mornings the scent of incense in the chapel enveloped him as he said Mass while in the evenings the heavy fragrance of flowers enveloped him as he obsessively counted plants and transferred pollen. Mendel strictly adheres to the rules of both worlds; he slavishly breeds generation after generation to obtain a 3:1 ratio and he rigidly adheres to his vow of celibacy despite his budding relationship with Frau Rotwang. Though he played God in his own garden of Eden and manipulated the sexuality of his plants, he submitted his own sexuality to God and to church. Although Mendel performed hundreds of crosses in the garden, Mendel was careful never to cross or combine his own two worlds: even his guarded letters to colleagues or family speak only of chance and never mention the hand of God.

Jean Miller, however, acknowledges the important role that faith plays in her life. After sleeping with Benedict, she seeks out a church and often questions Benedict about his belief in God. Benedict wonders, “How did Jean reconcile her faith with the fact that she was living in sin?… Those few weeks together were eaten into by guilt” (Mawer 174). Clearly, Jean’s religious and moral beliefs affect her feelings about cheating on her husband and having an abortion. While her faith is a source of comfort and direction, it is also a source of guilt and worry. Jean struggles to understand how her own actions fit with her religious beliefs. She and her husband acknowledge God’s design in sexuality and in the creation of children, yet Jean boldly tampers with both. The guilt that subsequently consumes her is evidence of the deep conflict within Jean as she labors to mesh faith and genetic design.

Benedict Lambert presents a different viewpoint: “ ‘it’s a bit difficult to believe that a loving God could do this to me’… There is also my work. You see, in my work I have called God’s bluff—I have looked behind the scenery… and there’s nothing there” (Mawer 174). Benedict entirely denies God’s existence and instead pours his faith and energies into his own work and research. “Playing God” is an idea that fascinates Benedict, and he does not hesitate to manipulate chance, the mechanism that he has called the instrument of God. At the end of the novel Benedict realizes that although he can play God and eliminate chance when sperm meets egg, he is utterly powerless against the chance of nature and the chance of human emotions.

Kelly Bouquet

~ by kellyb243 on April 4, 2008.

2 Responses to “Mendel’s Dwarf: Three perspectives on religion and genetics”

  1. Good coverage of the three different perspectives on God in the novel. It’s a provocative subject.

  2. Thoughtful response. I must admit, however, that I had not ever thought Ben should just end it all.

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