by Catherine Marshall

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Christian Themes

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Prior to writing about Christy, Marshall underwent a spiritual crisis following the death of her first husband. She was ill for two years with tuberculosis. She sought guidance from ministers and prayer, asking questions, much as Christy does, to establish a personal connection by talking to God. Marshall developed a great joy and enthusiasm for God, writing Christy to share her deep love for and closeness to Jesus Christ, to reinforce her faith, and to help others achieve knowledge of God.

Marshall’s evangelical nature resulted in her incorporating in Christy the message that every individual, regardless of denominational or religious affiliation, can develop a personal relationship with God through prayer and trust him as a guide, seeking a deeper understanding through faith, as Christy does. Marshall hoped to help people see Jesus Christ as an approachable and genuine source of comfort and inspiration, not simply as an abstract idea.

Through her evaluation of her beliefs, Christy realizes that God gives people strength when their faith is tested and weaknesses threaten to divert them from their path. She discovers that God has a plan for each person, a design for each individual’s purpose and duties in life. Despite despair, doubts, and hardships, good prevails over evil. God answers prayers in ways most suitable for each individual, although his response may not seem appropriate initially.

Christy also finds that people’s spirituality is reflected more in how they live and how they treat others than in whether they attend church. Comparing churches, Christy notes her home church did not inspire her to the degree that mountain services and work do. Christy’s actions emphasize that God values the richness of people’s spirits, not their material wealth. Christy unselfishly tends to her neighbors, regardless of their wealth or poverty, sophistication or lack of education, discovering that those who give and share are blessed. She welcomes God’s instructions on how she can best serve her community, accepting responsibilities and being accountable to both God and her fellow human beings.

Finally, Christy learns that unconditional love is a gift from God, whether it is her altruistic affection for others or the romantic love that develops between her and Dr. MacNeill, with its potential for companionship, family, and service.


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The themes in Christy concern themselves not only with these social issues but with matters of personal religious growth and maturity in the lives of the characters. One of the themes of the novel is the need for people to come to terms with the presence and meaning of death in human life. The ability to accept death as a natural part of life and glimpse its meaning in God's plan is seen as a reflection of the level of an individual's spiritual maturity. Different characters in the novel attain various levels of awareness of what the inevitable event of death can mean in the life of a Christian. For instance, to Fairlight Spencer, a woman burdened by fears and superstition, death represents complete annihilation symbolized by a terrifying shadow. The young minister David Grantland acknowledges the Christian belief in immortality but is hard-pressed to defend his beliefs with vigor and enthusiasm. It is the oldest woman in the cove, Aunt Polly Teague, who questions the young minister on this subject, who ultimately experiences a vision of eternal life which is far more convincing than the minister's words. At the end of the novel, Christy herself has a mystical experience which confirms for her a belief that there is an afterlife.

The characters in the book find their religious beliefs shaken many times....

(This entire section contains 1151 words.)

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One factor that assails their faith is the resistance of many of the mountain people to the remedies modern civilization offers. Teacher Christy, Doctor MacNeil and the Reverend Grantland cannot understand why their attempts to eradicate suffering among the mountain folk are ignored or ridiculed. Another theme in the novel is the prevalence of self-doubt that plagues those who dedicate their lives and skills to helping others. Christy and the Reverend Grantland go through periods of self-examination in which they question their motives in dedicating their lives to the service of others.

In Christy, periods of confusion and self-doubt are not condemned as signs of moral weakness. A central insight provided in the novel is that spiritual truth of a strong and lasting nature can most surely be found in times of temptation and seeming despair. After Christy's friend Fairlight Spencer dies at an early age, leaving her small children behind, the young schoolteacher reaches a crisis point in her faith. Christy describes her feelings during this time with complete candor: "This was no ache but a wild, searing pain boring into my vitals, piercing every thought." When she admits her feelings of desolation to Miss Alice, a much admired mentor and friend, the older woman assures her that doubts and temptations to despair are far from uncommon experiences among men and women of faith. Miss Alice verifies her claim — that even the most godly people can find their faith assailed — by quoting from the words of biblical figures such as Job, and the writer of the Psalms.

Comforted by the fact that her experience is not unique, Christy continues her search for meaning convinced that, "If there was a God, He would have to be truth. And in that case, candor — however impertinent — would be more pleasing to Him than posturing." Through many days of silent contemplation, Christy reaches a point of spiritual awareness and the certainty of God's presence and love in human life. Although Christy admits that, "The world around me was still full of riddles for which my little mind had not been given answers," she does find her God. Christy's God is described as having a personal knowledge and love for each man and woman He has created: "God insists on seeing us one by one, each a special case, each inestimably beloved for himself." Through this experience, Christy finds the courage to face the challenges which will undoubtedly rise in the future with confidence. She asserts, "I knew now. God is. I had found my center, my point of reference. Everything else I need to know would follow." Faith, then, leads not to a desire to escape from reality but, on the contrary, motivates the believer to embrace the challenges of life with renewed energy and a revitalized sense of commitment. Throughout the novel, Divine Providence is seen working through the trials and moments of testing in human lives. The basic issue of theodicy, why God permits suffering to exist, is not addressed in this novel. However, one of its central themes is the conviction that God can bring goodness even out of situations that seem cruel and senseless. Christy's near-fatal illness at the conclusion of the novel gives her a deeper awareness of the meaning of life and reveals the person she is destined to marry.

Throughout Christy, the characters find a growing sense of their own identity when they learn to respect the values and culture of those different from themselves. Christy gradually learns to neither stereotype the mountain people nor trivialize their heritage as romantic and quaint. As she learns to accept them as individuals possessing a colorful heritage with both strengths and weaknesses, she begins to discover her own identity and the gifts she possesses. Although the role of woman as wife and mother is respected, Christy offers several different role models. Christy herself is an unconventional woman. Although she is from Southern society in the early years of the twentieth century, Christy is far from a typical "southern belle." She lives an independent life, far from family and friends, in an isolated community which is full of dangers and hardships for her. Christy deliberately chooses a life focused on work and independence. As she embarks on her adventure in the Tennessee wilderness, she experiences "elation about being turned loose to make my way in the world." Christy's role model and mentor is an unusual woman who combines spiritual insight with practicality. Alice Henderson, a Quaker missionary, gracefully transcends the limitations placed on the role of women in her day and age. "Miss Alice" is an authority figure who is loved. As a Quaker woman, she is accustomed to preaching and assuming a leadership role in missionary work. This she continues to do even in the mountain community where females have not been traditionally welcomed as leaders of the church or community. By revealing the personal tragedy in her own life which led her to the work of ministry she has undertaken, "Miss Alice" teaches Christy how God can bring positive results even out of tragedy.

Finally, the events of Christy testify to the fact that human beings are mutually dependent on each other. No one can remain in isolation from others without causing suffering to himself and weakening the society around him. The mission work in Cutter's Gap depends on the coordinated efforts of many people working together. The crucial need for people to work together in order to contribute to the welfare of all becomes apparent when an epidemic of typhoid comes to the mountain community.