Study Guide

Benediction

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Benediction Summary

Synopsis

F. Scott Fitzgerald published "Benediction" in his 1920 anthology Flappers and Philosophers. While he himself thought it one of his better pieces, it received lukewarm reviews from critics who variously charged it with sentimentality or questioned whether it depicted Catholicism fairly.

"Benediction" tells the story of nineteen-year-old Lois, who spends an afternoon getting reacquainted with her thirty-six-year-old brother, Kieth. It opens with her sending a telegram to her love interest, Howard, to meet her the next day. Readers never meet Howard, but from a letter that Lois reads, we learn he is anxious whether she will end their relationship or continue it.

Kieth is training to be a Jesuit priest. At her asking, he relates the story of how he became a priest: he was on a train when he had the feeling there was a presence in the empty seat across from his, and it told him to become a priest. As they get reacquainted, they discuss what it takes to be a good priest: one has to be sweet, but one also has to be hard. Then at a Benediction service Lois has an unusual experience. She feels a force, a pressure, within her, and the altar in front wavers in her vision. There is a great crashing noise in her ears, and she calls for Kieth during the blessing. She passes out and wakes up outside, feeling at peace. Afterward she tells Kieth that many people just do not believe anymore, or they find the rules of Catholicism cumbersome. He tells her how he has always prayed for her soul, and how he wants to be old Uncle Kieth someday, the monk at dinner with her and her kids. After this, they part. The story ends with Lois apparently relenting from a decision to break things off with Howard.

A benediction is a blessing, and the novel blesses the divide between the lonely life of the clergy and the worldly life of the laity. "Benediction" offers the reader a vision of the alternative between the sacred and the secular, and through the characters of Lois and Kieth, what each hopes to get from the other.