Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This short story, which helped establish V. S. Pritchett’s reputation as a master of the form, is strongly autobiographical and makes up part of a larger working out of his relationship with his father. The same autobiographical themes appear in some of Pritchett’s other works, most notably his 1951 novel, Mr. Beluncle.

Pritchett was born into a lower-middle-class family in Ipswich, an English market town; his father, Walter, was a self-centered man who exaggerated his own meager accomplishments as a traveling salesperson and manufacturer of fancy upholstery for furniture. As the father’s fortunes fluctuated, the Pritchett family was supported by his Uncle Bugg, an Ipswich building contractor and pillar of the local Presbyterian church. After trying out several nonconformist denominations, Walter became a Christian Scientist. Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, by Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science is based on the belief that God is completely good, all-powerful, and the basis of reality. That which is not like God, such as evil, disease, and misfortune, cannot exist in reality; they are only a distorted human perception of reality that can be dispelled through prayer and study.

“The Saint” clearly deals with this background. The Church of the Last Purification, of Toronto, Canada, is modeled on the Church of Christ, Scientist, of Boston, Massachusetts. Reverend Timberlake is thus similar to a Christian Science practitioner....

(The entire section is 435 words.)