Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330
Themes in The Good Lord Bird include protest, religious values, and societal change.
Protest is a major theme in the novel. John Brown and the Pottawatomie Rifles are fighting to end slavery for the most part. They advocate for violent protest as a means to overthrow slaveowners. John Brown even shoots Henry's owner, who shoots back and kills Henry's father, in the first scene in the novel. They see killing people who stand against them as the means to an end. Others in the novel disagree with this approach and argue that protest should be done without violence if possible.
Religious values are another theme discussed in the novel. Henry's father is said to be a man given to preaching despite never having read the Bible. John Brown is extremely knowledgeable about the Bible and uses it to justify his desire to free the slaves. At the same time, slaveowners use other passages to show that they have the right to own slaves. The Bible is mentioned again and again throughout the book; it's clear that people can twist religious texts to serve their own ends. Some people live according to the letter, some according to the spirit, and others according to both.
One of the important things about the theme of societal change is that sometimes people have to fight for change they won't live to see. Henry says:
Some things in this world just ain't mean to be, not in the times we want 'em to, and the heart has to hold it in this world as a remembrance, a promise for the world that's to come. There's a prize at the end of all of it, but still, that's a heavy load to bear.
John Brown and his men fought to end slavery -- which they wouldn't live to see after Harper's Ferry. They had to make a change to help support other people and future generations even if it would mean the end of their lives.