All of the stories in The Friendly Persuasion are designed to entertain, to inspire, and to raise moral questions. They gently provide practical lessons about life and death, friendship and love.
The vocabulary used by the Birdwell family—such as “thee” and “thou” instead of “you”—constantly emphasizes the fact that they are Quakers. They seek to abide by the primary Quaker doctrines of simplicity, kindness, and goodwill toward others. In their marital relationship Jess and Eliza treat each other with love and respect, and if on occasion they disagree, they use gentle humor and “friendly persuasion” to help the other understand their position. Eliza stands up for her rights as a person rather than accepting the era’s marginalizing view of women. Jess admires his wife for having what he calls a mind of her own.
Prayer is a part of the family’s daily life. It was highly unusual in that era for women to be ministers in most Christian denominations, but less so among the Quakers. Eliza speaks at the Sunday meeting hall. Unlike other religious denominations, whose ministers or priests conduct organized services, Quakers believe that anyone present at a meeting should be able to speak or offer a prayer when he or she chooses.
Among the many Christian issues and themes in the stories is more than one discussion of death. At one point, Jess starts worrying about his mortality and is feeling sorry for himself. He then encounters one of his regular clients, who is suffering from a fatal illness and is close to death. As he tries to help and comfort this woman, he sees the gratitude she has for the life she has been granted and the strength of spirit she still retains. Jess experiences a “wake-up,” an awakening, which dissolves his self-pity and makes him more grateful for his blessings and more determined to help others.
In “Homer and the Lilies,” Jess, now eighty years old, befriends Homer, a twelve-year-old orphaned boy. Jess sees again the wonder of the world through the boy’s eyes. When Homer unexpectedly dies, Jess ponders on life and death, and he tells Eliza he believes all that is required of him, or anyone, is to love others.