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...
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