The major theme in the novel is that nothing is as it seems on the surface or as it seems after being explored in depth. Only God can judge. The villagers observe their new priest and judge him as too young. The aristocrats view him as unsophisticated; the commoners view him as remote and harsh. At times both groups attribute to him the ability to see into souls and to discern a person’s innermost secrets.
The priest observes the villagers and often attributes to them a depth and sophistication that could not be further from the truth. He judges the children by adult standards and assigns to them motives far beyond the childhood whims that dictate their actions.
The priest judges with his head, through his philosophy, logic, and debated alternatives. The villagers judge from what they observe, assuming that things are always as they seem. The priest is young and a drunkard to the villagers, and the villagers are willful and unrepentant to the priest.
At his death, the priest concludes that God’s grace is everywhere. Readers are led to hope that when the villagers learn of the death of the priest and its cause, they too will realize that God’s grace has been and remains among them.