O'Neill was a naturalist: a kind of realist who uses environmental forces to overwhelm human agency.
Qualities of a naturalist are :
- austere or harsh frankness of manner
- cosmic, biological, or environmental determinism
So, in Where the Cross is Made, we have several examples of these unreal qualities exaggerated for effect. On a literal level, we have "the facts" vs. "story"; we have "treasure" vs. "map".
On other levels, we have Christ (son of God) vs. Christ (human). We have earthly treasure vs. heavenly treasure. There are the great paradoxes of faith. What do we believe? Our father's stories? Or our heavenly father's stories? Is Christ a man or the God or both? Do we pursue God or earthly treasure? How do we know what is real: spiritually? It's enough to drive anyone crazy!
Look at the dialogue:
There are cases where facts—Well, here goes—the brass tacks. My father was a whaling captain as his father before him. The last trip he made was seven years ago. He expected to be gone two years. It was four before we saw him again. His ship had been wrecked in the Indian Ocean. He and six others managed to reach a small island on the fringe of the Archipelago—an island barren as hell, Doctor—after seven days in an open boat. The rest of the whaling crew never were heard from again—gone to the sharks. Of the six who reached the island with my father only three were alive when a fleet of Malay canoes picked them up, mad from thirst and starvation, the four of them. These four men finally reached Frisco. (with great emphasis) They were my father; Silas Horne, the mate; Cates, the bo'sun, and Jimmy Kanaka, a Hawaiian harpooner. Those four! (with a forced laugh) There are facts for you. It was all in the papers at the time—my father's story.
NAT—(flourishing it above his head with a shout of triumph) See! (He bends down and spreads it out in the light of the lantern.) The map of the island! Look! It isn't lost for me after all! There's still a chance—my chance! (with mad, solemn decision) When the house is sold I'll go—and I'll find it! Look! It's written here in his hand writing: "The treasure is buried where the cross is made."