Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A major theme in The Citadel concerns the inroads that materialism makes upon idealism. Cronin suggests that idealism can succeed if one is resolute. In this book, Andrew Manson’s idealism is chipped away bit by bit until he can no longer recognize himself. His wife, Christine, retains most of her idealism and wonders what has happened to the man she married. She is never to receive an answer to her question, because Cronin uses her death as the triggering device that catapults Manson back, quite ironically, to where his ideals were when he first met Christine.

A secondary theme, one closely related to the primary one, is that good and truth will out. Counterposed to the ignorant committee members in Aberalaw and to the fashionable, greedy physicians in London’s Harley Street is someone like Richard Stillman, a scientist in Portland, Oregon, who writes the only professional response to Manson’s article on inhalation when it appears in the Journal of Industrial Health, giving Manson support when the forces of ignorance are arrayed against him. Stillman represents the lofty ideal toward which true scientists strive.

The Citadel is not a deep book. Its author, who was also a physician, had a personal ax to grind, and he used the book to unburden himself of discontents he had experienced during his own practice of medicine in the areas where his character practices. Although the book has few original or revolutionary ideas, it is an example of solid craftsmanship in writing.