What do the motifs in Philip’s drawings and paintings reveal about Philip and theme in As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross?
As Mrs. Bentley’s descriptions indicate, there are recurring motifs in Philip’s drawings and paintings.
The motifs of Philip's persistent art, representing "what nearly was," and the motifs within his art, the "false fronts ... outlandish things," are integral to Ross's characterization of Philip and of Mrs. Bentley, too. Further, as Ross has Mrs. Bentley give away in the first pages, these motifs are critical to theme:
Sermons and drawing together, they're a kind of symbol, a summing. The small-town preacher and the artist --what he is and what he nearly was -- the failure, the compromise, the going-on -- it's all there -- the discrepancy between the man and the little niche that holds him.
In other words, in order to understand the meaning of the characters and of the theme, you must understand the motifs related to Philip the artist. One of the first things revealed about Philip through these motifs is that he is despondent. Not only is he psychologically despondent, he is philosophically despondent as well. Mrs. Bentley is very clear on this when she says "false fronts" should always be laughed at as outlandish yet Philip always sees and understands the false fronts of the towns and people he is sent to preach to; he sees and pities; he sees and knows they are "stricken with ... futility."
Another thing these motifs reveal about Philip is that he is not pleased about his alternative career choice. Preaching was an option after "the failure;" it was a "compromise." It was the submission of his true front to the false front of "the little niche that holds him" now. The theme of finding life after being trapped by failure and inadequate decisions is built upon these foundational motifs: as Mrs. Bentley says, his drawings of falseness are the symbol and summary--and the theme--of Philip's life and his spiritual and psychological conditions.
I wished ... that I might at least believe I haven't altogether wasted [Philip], only postponed to another generation his fulfillment.