One of the great themes of Christian literature is the monumental struggle between moral evil and moral good. The earthly conflict between good and evil stands as a symbol for the cataclysmic battle between metaphysical forces of evil and good; thus, God and the sons of light battle against Satan and the sons of darkness in catastrophic skirmish out of which the forces of God emerge triumphant. Dante, John Milton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and other great poets and writers depicted this struggle in their epic works, and many other writers have addressed this theme—whether in an explicitly Christian context or not. Brouwer’s novel captures the very real conflict that every person experiences in choosing good over evil.
Clay Garner is a good man repulsed by the evil in the world around him. He struggles with spirituality, asking questions about why God allows suffering in the world. Although he acts as a force for good in the novel in his actions toward Kelsie and Taylor, his good is more moral than spiritual. He is unconvincing as a force of God’s goodness in the world. His name, Clay, indicates this in two ways. God is shaping him like clay in the struggle with evil, and his clay feet make him human in his failures.
The Watcher, much like Milton’s Satan and Goethe’s Mephistopheles, is powerfully attractive in his evil ways. He is utterly convincing as a soul consumed by evil and in his commitment to acting out his moral evil in the community. It is only in the last moments—and not entirely because Clay is a good man—that good triumphs over evil in the novel. The Watcher stands as a symbol for Satan, and Clay Garner stands as a symbol for the frailty of humankind and its need to be constantly in God’s presence in order to overcome evil.