Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major idea behind this work is immediately revealed by its title. The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven must be obtained not only through the inner-directed love of God but also in total dedication to helping one’s fellow human beings. Prayer alone cannot give salvation to man, for prayer alone is a meaningless activity without the reality of good works.

In addition, Cronin has presented in Francis the kind of priest who seems to be more in the ascendancy among men of the cloth in all faiths. Not content with dispensing pious platitudes, Francis seeks to involve himself in the total life of his flock, desiring to improve their lives both physically and spiritually. He is drawn to the poor as an act of faith in doing the work of God.

Francis also sees toleration as the highest virtue, and in this he foreshadows a certain degree of reconciliation between Catholicism and other religious faiths. In Francis, one finds an image of the human face doing the work of God.

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

While The Keys of the Kingdom is a story of individual promise and courage, it is primarily a story of tolerance and a criticism of harsh social conditions. From childhood, Father Francis tolerates others without harshness and anger. He is ill-treated by the Glennies but never strikes back. He is deeply outraged by Nora’s situation and Gilfoyle’s ill use of his family but realizes he must accept God’s will and becomes a priest. In China he does not judge others because they are different. He sets about helping the people medically when he cannot reach them spiritually and in time comes to admire the writings of Confucius instead of denigrating an opposing value system.

Tolerance is demonstrated once again when Francis travels to the mountainous Liu village, which has not seen a consecrated priest for three hundred years. Instead of being outraged at the invalidity of the villagers’ sacraments, he looks on in admiration at their ability to keep their faith. When American Methodists open a nearby facility, he welcomes them not as competitors for souls but as Christian friends. In addition, as his atheist friend Dr. Tulloch is dying of the plague, he does not force his faith on him but accepts his friend’s choice.

In a manner similar to Charles Dickens’s handling of his characters Pip, David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist, author A. J. Cronin in an effort to bring about social change points out the vulnerability of children in his portrayal of the horrors of their lives. As a child, Francis suffers near starvation at the hands of the intolerant and abusive Mrs. Glennie until Aunt Polly rescues him. Similarly, young Andrew suffers until Francis returns from China to claim him and provide a better life.

Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Keys of the Kingdom Cronin is concerned with two main themes, one of which is a constant concern throughout his life and work,...

(The entire section is 214 words.)