Fire by Night’s title refers to the pillar of fire sent by the Lord to the wandering Israelites to give them light and guide them on their way. It also echoes the statement of Jesus in John 8:12 when he identifies himself as the light of the world who will give light to his followers. Austin depicts both heroines as initially dissatisfied with their lives and searching for a better way to live. When circumstances thrust them into danger and despair, each is able, through the advice and example of Christian disciples, to access that light and walk farther through the darkness than they had previously been able to do. Julia’s epiphany with regard to her feelings for Dr. McGrath occurs one night during a spectacular display of aurora borealis, which she interprets as a God-given portent to help the dying and exhausted patients and caregivers realize God’s love and awareness of their needs. Through that light, Phoebe is able to go on despite being alone and friendless, and Julia sees her way through a maze of deceptions and complications to become the kind of woman of whom God approves.
Austin shows that for both Julia and Phoebe, the way to happiness, love, and fulfillment lies in forgetting themselves in Christian service to others. Phoebe is able to endure the horrors of battle by focusing on helping Ted and winning the war so that Ted’s enslaved black relatives in the South will benefit. When wounded, Phoebe learns for the first time of...
(The entire section is 416 words.)