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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

The Lilies of the Field by William Edmund Barrett is about an African American man, German nuns, and their shared goal of making a church in the middle of a desert. The main character, Homer Smith, is a member of the Southern Baptist church and hates being micromanaged. He loves doing what he wants. Therefore, he constantly travels. In one of his trips, he finds a group of nuns making a fence for their church. Upon meeting them, Homer helps the nuns repair the roof of their chapel. However, there is a communication barrier, because the nuns are German and hardly know English.

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The Reverend Mother does not seem impressed by Homer’s gesture and expects him to help until the chapel is complete. At first, Homer is hesitant because he is not a Catholic. However, he feels a strong conviction to help them. He shares with the nuns the food that he has and teaches them English. Homer wonders why he is drawn toward helping the nuns. He feels independent because he does the work out of his own free will, but he wants monetary compensation. Despite his expectations, the payment he receives is not monetary. Nonetheless, he dedicates himself fully to building the church.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1062

The Lilies of the Field is an account of the legendary accomplishments of Homer Smith, instrumental in helping five refugee nuns realize their dream. Legends often get embellished and assume a life of their own, so the narrator sets the record straight by re-creating the past—how Smith, a twenty-four-year-old African American from South Carolina, just released from the army, meets the nuns. An impetuous, kind but headstrong man, he equips a station wagon for travel on the West Coast. A skilled man, he travels around, living frugally and working only when he feels the need. One day in May as he is driving by a valley in the Rocky Mountains, his curiosity is aroused by the sight of four women, attired in bulky clothes and head scarves, putting up a fence. Wondering if they need his help, he stops to offer his services.

Smith finds that the women speak German and have a limited knowledge of English. He is greeted by an elderly woman, who introduces herself and her fellow nuns. Mother Maria Marthe thanks God for sending her a big, strong man to help. Smith refutes this by saying he was not sent by anyone but stopped of his own will, yet the mother superior remains firm in her conviction that he is the answer to her prayers.

Smith assumes he will be helping the nuns put up the fence, but the mother superior assigns him the task of repairing the roof. To his surprise, Smith finds that the nuns already possess the shingles and needed tools, suggesting that they had intended to fix the roof themselves. At midday, he is asked to join the nuns for their frugal meal of bread, cheese, and milk, and after the day ends, it is assumed that he will be staying for supper. Smith plans on leaving after repairing the roof, but the evening he spends with the nuns helping them learn English softens his heart toward them.

The next morning Mother Maria Marthe takes Smith to the foundation of the old burnt house, shows him a good drawing of a church, not very different from the Baptist churches Smith has attended and declares, “Ve build a shapel.” When Smith realizes that “ve” includes him, he makes it clear once again that he has neither the expertise nor any desire to build a chapel. However, he offers to clear the foundation before leaving.

In the evening, as Smith is called to join the nuns for dinner, he asks the mother for his wages. Noticing her difficulty in understanding him, he turns to the Bible and points to Luke 10:7: “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the...

(The entire section contains 1268 words.)

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