The Keys of the Kingdom Characters

A. J. Cronin

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Father Francis Chisolm is, without a doubt, the most inspiring character in the works of A. J. Cronin. In Francis, Cronin has created what in demeanor and appearance would be a most ordinary human being, but Cronin also shows how little appearance means compared to the inner nature of the man of conviction who is determined to leave the world a better place. Francis’ inspiration lies in a humble nature and in a total commitment to humanity, not to Church dogma or Church politics. Because he is lacking in surface conviviality, he is not seen as the real success he is by his superiors.

In addition to this, there is his religious tolerance, a lesson which he learned by the death of his parents: He chooses not to impose his religious faith upon those who are not receptive to it. This tolerance is best exemplified by his friendship with Dr. Willie Tulloch, a friend of Francis from childhood on. Willie, a physician, comes to assist Francis at the mission in China during a terrible plague and finally dies for his efforts. Francis’ regard for Willie shocks Mother Maria-Veronica because Willie was always an atheist and dies unrepentant and unconverted.

Francis’ tolerance is again seen with the coming of Dr. Fiske to the town of Pai-tan. Dr. Fiske, an American Methodist missionary, is regarded by some of Francis’ flock as a rival whom they would drive away as an unwanted competitor for the souls of the people. Instead, Francis befriends Dr. Fiske and his wife; together they do much to help the lives of the people of the town. At the heart of Francis’ faith is his respect for the...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Francis Chisolm

Francis Chisolm, the main character. He is the son of pious Catholic parents who die while he is very young, leaving him to be reared by relatives in circumstances of great poverty and personal suffering. He is rescued by his Uncle Ned and Aunt Polly, who continue his rearing and send him to the Catholic boarding school at Holywell. When his cousin, Nora, whom he loves, gives birth to an illegitimate child and commits suicide before entering a forced marriage, Chisolm decides to enter the priesthood. At seminary, he struggles to conform, but his unconventional but deep spirituality earns for him the respect of his superiors. His first appointment as a priest is as curate in a Scottish parish. His efforts to help his parishioners lead to conflict with the pastors of the first two parishes to which he is assigned. His mentor, Bishop Hamish McNabb, sends him to a missionary post in China. Arriving there in 1902, Chisolm spends the bulk of his ministry there. He humbly serves the community, Christians and non-Christians, through hard times that include an epidemic of bubonic plague and devastating civil wars. As an old man, he returns to Scotland and a small parish. He takes upon himself responsibility for rearing Nora’s abandoned grandchild, Andrew. Even in his declining years, his example of simple Christian virtues and tolerance affects those who come in contact with him.

Anselm Mealey

Anselm Mealey, Chisolm’s childhood friend, who also enters the priesthood. Mealey is self-confident and proclaims his piety. He moves smoothly up the hierarchy of the church. As supervisor of the missions, he visits Chisolm in China. When Chisolm returns to Scotland, he finds that Mealey is now bishop of the diocese. Throughout the novel, Mealey’s smoothness and success pose a contrast to Chisolm’s humility and outward lack of success.

Bishop Hamish McNabb


(The entire section is 792 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Francis Chisolm is a character of the same unaffected purity as the young David Copperfield or Oliver Twist in Dickens's novels of those...

(The entire section is 236 words.)