Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The Miracle of the Bells shows how much good one man, motivated by love and altruism, can engender in the world. As the novel opens, the unemployed press agent Bill Dunnigan arrives in Coaltown, an ugly immigrant mining town, with the coffin of one of its citizens, a young actress named Olga Trocki who was the daughter of a Polish ne’er-do-well. Bill had originally discovered Olga in a dance revue and helped her to an eventual starring role in a major Hollywood motion picture. Upon finishing the movie, however, Olga died of tuberculosis. Now the angry producer, Marcus Harris, has refused to release the film.
Olga wished burial in her hometown, so Bill is honoring her request. With his last dollars, he hires an undertaker and visits a priest about having the church bells rung, another of Olga’s wishes. He meets Father Paul, the young, shabby priest of St. Michael’s who considers himself a failure because parishioners do not value his advice for improving life in Coaltown and forsake his parish for better-heeled churches. Father Paul will not charge for the funeral, and Bill feels grateful and generous. In turn, Father Paul feels Bill is an answer to his prayer, to bring new hope to Coaltown. The two men become friends and determine to fight their way back up. Bill feels Olga’s spirit is with him, and that God, Saint Michael, and Father Paul could do with a good press agent.
Bill gets the idea to have all five local churches ring their bells continuously for five days for Olga, and he uses all his savings as a down payment for this service. Once the bells start ringing, everyone in town tries to discover the reason and learns about Olga. A mob of the curious and the press descend on Bill’s hotel. He tells the Cinderella story of the poor local girl who made good in the movies, plugs her film, and spends his last dollar on a telegram to Harris in Radio City, asking for ten thousand dollars to save Harris’s million-dollar investment in the shelved movie. Harris discovers that the Olga story is in all the papers. Reading good things about himself and the movie, he changes his mind and wires Bill twenty thousand dollars to continue publicizing the...
(The entire section is 893 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Sources for Further Study
Bazelton, David T. Review of The Miracle of the Bells. In Books in Review. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1946. Bazelton pans the implied relationship between Hollywood and religion in the novel, as well as the oversimplification of good and evil.
Carlson, Marvin. “Janney, Russell Dixon, 1884-1963.” American National Biography 11 (1999): 858-859. Discusses The Miracle of the Bells as somewhat autobiographical and details political and commercial effects of its popularity and messages.
Jacobs, Harvey C. “The Miracle of the Bells: Freedom Rings.” Vital Speeches of the Day 23, no. 5 (December 15, 1956): 130-132. Relates the unselfishness and community engendered in the novel to pride in the past of American education and hope for the future.