(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “The Forks,” Powers depicts two very different kinds of priests. On one hand is Monsignor, a snobbish man very much at home with the things of this world. He wears a Panama hat, uses Steeple cologne, and drives a long black car. Doomed to remain a monsignor now that all his intercessors are dead, he determines to live as comfortably as he can. He orders for himself the luxury of a medieval garden with a spouting whale jostling with Neptune in the waters of the fountain. He has no intellectual pretensions and maintains his mental calm by either ignoring or condemning innovations and controversy: “His mind was made up on everything, excessively so.” In his eyes, communism and organized labor are the chief dangers to society.

The status quo has been kind to Monsignor, and he wants no interference with tradition now. His curate, Father Eudex, on the other hand, reads the radical Catholic Worker, neglects to shave under his armpits, contemplates buying a Model A in opposition to Monsignor’s contention that a shabby car is unbefitting a priest, works in his undershirt with Monsignor’s gardener, and sympathizes with labor unions.

In short, Powers has placed in one rectory an old, worldly traditionalist and a young, idealistic radical, and the drama that unfolds from their interaction is what the story is about. On the surface, Powers seems to be satirizing the worldly monsignor and lauding the saintly and socially conscious curate, but upon closer reading one discovers that Father Eudex, with his blinkered vision and unyielding...

(The entire section is 644 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Decent and selfless Father Eudex returns from morning Mass at the orphanage, driving a car that belongs to his more worldly superior, the Monsignor. At the rectory, Monsignor waits for Father Eudex, eager for assurance that his big new car is unharmed. Hoping for Monsignor’s approval, the unassuming priest seizes the moment to announce nervously that he has a chance to buy his own car. Under Monsignor’s patronizing questions, the priest reveals that the bargain he has in mind is not a sparkling new Ford V-8 but merely a used Model A. Monsignor laughs at his request for permission to buy the car, dismissing the topic with the reminder that “You know the class of people we get here.”

Turning to his morning paper, Monsignor spots a story about his archenemy, a local bishop who is admired by the press for his support of left-wing labor causes. As Monsignor fumes about communism and fellow-traveling priests, it becomes clear that his main concern is to keep the good will of a Mr. Memmers of the First National Bank, a prominent parishioner. As Father Eudex well knows, Monsignor’s ongoing complaining stems from his desire to become a bishop.

To ease his suffering over communists in the church, Monsignor takes his car for a spin. Meanwhile, Father Eudex pores through his mail—which today includes a check for one hundred dollars, “Compliments of the Rival Tractor Company.” Father Eudex knows that an identical envelope addressed to Monsignor contains a check for two hundred dollars—the going rate for pastors. Although Rival Tractor contributes to ministers and “even rabbis,” the spiritual...

(The entire section is 666 words.)