Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 295
The Lilies of the Field was written in 1962 by William Barrett. The protagonist is twenty-four-year-old Homer Smith, who "stood six foot two" and whose skin was a "deep, warm black." Upon being discharged from the army, Smith buys a second-hand station wagon with the money he accumulated, and fits it for sleeping in order that he might travel and see the West. He sets out for the Rockies and catches sign of a small farm west of the Rocky Mountains, which he learns serves as the dilapidated home of a group of German speaking nuns. He stops there and ends up doing odd jobs for the nuns that they cannot afford to pay him for. Only one of the group speaks conversational English (Old Mother). The nuns call him "Homerus Schmidt."
The group of nuns believe that Smith was sent by God to build for them a church. Smith is at first reluctant; however, he soon finds himself picking up extra work in the nearby city with a view to providing for the nuns' food. Smith works dangerous jobs to buy building materials for the church, and his philanthropy inspires a mutual acquaintance of the nuns to donate building materials. Smith eventually builds the church, but leaves town under the cover of night before its opening. The legend of the beneficent "Schmidt" is used to inspire local philanthropic efforts.
The book deals primarily with the themes of duty and persuasion. Homer finds satisfaction in helping the nuns, and is beholden only to himself to finish the church. The persuasion is manifest both in the nuns' non-verbal enjoining of him to complete "God's work" (the church), and in Schmidt's effect on the other townspeople, whom he inadvertently inspires to take a voluntary part in the construction.