Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The paramount theme running through “The Forks” is the contrast between Monsignor’s materialism and pharisaism and Father Eudex’s natural kindness and spirituality. Monsignor’s pride in his car approaches blasphemy, his concern for outward show disgraces his position, and his cozy relationship with Rival Tractor Company reveals a blatant disregard for honor. These attributes contrast sharply with Father Eudex’s natural modesty and probity: He would be happy with a used Model A, he knows instinctively that helping Joe Whalen dig the garden overrides any offense implicit in working in his undershirt, and he destroys the insulting check without a trace of regret.

In one wonderfully conceived passage, Father Eudex imagines what kind of bishop Monsignor might make. He envisions the perfect Pharisee: that man of righteousness whose devotion to outward and visible forms of conduct—down to using the right forks—conceals an inner emptiness. To observe feast days and speak beautiful, flawless Latin are accomplishments subject to care and practice; to love your neighbor as yourself—even when he is in his undershirt—demands innate qualities that cannot be summoned up by the will. Father Eudex thinks, “His reign would be a wise one, excessively so. His mind was made up on everything, excessively so.”

Monsignor’s venality afflicts so many men of the cloth that the widow Mrs. Klein just naturally assumes that the rectory functions...

(The entire section is 449 words.)