Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Although he grew up in the Baptist church, Morris does not identify himself with any specific denomination as an adult, stating he is a Christian who worships at a variety of churches. His characters’ faith is more important than their religious affiliations. He did not create Erma Lee and her story with the intention of writing Christian fiction; rather, he simply envisioned this work as a depiction of how faith can heal wounded spirits.

Through his characters, Morris emphasizes his belief that seeking a direct connection with God can comfort people who are facing problems and conflicts in their lives. Miss Claudia often tells Erma Lee that God exists within her and that she is never solitary, because God is always present. She reminds Erma Lee that God gives her strength and will watch over her and guide her. Miss Claudia emphasizes that God has a plan for every person. She urges Erma Lee to pray, sharing her burdens with God. Both women consider reading the Bible soothing, and Miss Claudia arranges for Erma Lee to receive her Bible after she dies. She discusses themes of sacrifice, suffering, and resurrection while explaining how dogwood blossoms symbolize the cross on which Jesus died.

Morris depicts his personal frustrations with people who attend church but fail to act in a Christian manner to all people, including those of different ethnicities and social classes. Erma Lee detects such behavior in the Methodist women who flock to Miss Claudia’s house when she is ill but dismiss Erma Lee as someone beneath them. Despite their church affiliation, they fail to act charitably to people in need. Erma Lee and Miss Claudia, by contrast—two women of different social classes but united in their Christian belief and behavior—epitomize how people should live their faith, not just talk about it, and transform negative situations into positive actions. Their kindness, generosity, sense of duty, and charity to each other reinforce the Christian concept that family is not simply defined by blood. Erma Lee ultimately learns to recognize her own spiritual richness and love herself as she sees through hypocrites and antagonistic people and situations. Her experiences deepen and enrich her faith.