Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The towering presence of the Gothic church in the hillside village dominates G. K. Chesterton’s story, both as an image and as the final key to the mystery. Father Brown explicitly connects the height of the church with the self-perceived spiritual elevations of the various characters. The smith, Simeon Barnes, is presented as a Puritan, a Scots Presbyterian, who condemns the sins of others from the lofty height of his smug sanctity. Barnes’s spiritual condescension may be the reason Chesterton names the character “Simeon.” The Syrian Christian ascetic St. Simeon Stylites lived atop a sixty-foot pillar of his own construction, from which he preached repentance for sins. Father Brown connects the modern Simeon’s self-styled spiritual elevation with the Scottish highlands that produced his brand of Puritanism. “His Scotch religion,” says Father Brown, “was made up by men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than to look up at heaven.” He tells this to the Reverend Bohun, hoping that the Protestant curate will make the connection with his own spiritual pride in looking down spiritually on his profligate brother.

At the time Father Brown says this, he is looking down, and notes that from the belfry’s height, people below look like insects. The visual perspective symbolizes the spiritual one that makes the murder possible: When one ceases to think of sinners as human, murder becomes more simple for...

(The entire section is 559 words.)