Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Chesterton is a master of the aphoristic style, weaving his philosophical and theological ideas into brief, readily quotable aphorisms that pepper all of his writings, fiction and nonfiction alike. “The Hammer of God” abounds in terse, well-crafted sentences that can stand on their own as proverbs: “Few except the poor preserve traditions”; “No man is such a legalist as the good Secularist”; “Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from”; “Humility is the mother of giants”; “I am a man . . . and therefore have all devils in my heart.” However, despite the proverbial quality of each of these sentences, they are not merely decoration; each is essentially integrated into the story at the point at which it appears. Each strikes the reader not only as a well-turned phrase but also as just the right thing to say at that moment to capture what is happening in the story.

Chesterton’s Father Brown stories always express theological ideas, yet, like his aphorisms, they are so well integrated into the story that they seldom intrude as mere didacticism or preaching. The religious theme within “The Hammer of God” is expressed through his characterizations by theological types. Readers first encounter two extremes in the brothers Bohun: the pious Wilfred and the prodigal Norman. When Gibbs the cobbler enters with the news of the murder, he is described as an atheist. His atheism is no extraneous matter: It is necessary to...

(The entire section is 511 words.)