Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

While certain material in Hill’s novel may strike readers as dated, the core issues are still relevant. Problems continue to exist between parents and children. Academic curriculums and the social environment of public schools cause some parents to choose home schooling. While rebellious teenage behavior may change with the times (Betty’s kissing and backtalk notwithstanding, she remains a virgin after eloping with Dudley), most parents are troubled by their children’s experimentation with alcohol, drugs, and sex, and by their disrespect for authority.

In The Prodigal Girl, Hill presents the temptations and the penalties of sin for both the children and the parents. After his awakening, Chester admits his indulgent parenting and his sin of neglect. To lead his family spiritually, he must guide by example and mete out discipline when needed. However, Chester is neither without mercy nor does he abandon his children in times of trouble. When Chris’s gambling debts mount, Chester hires a lawyer and helps him repay the money, keeping his son from jail. During Betty’s absence, Chester spends a long night entreating God’s assistance and begging mercy for his own sins. Likewise, Eleanor acknowledges her role in the children’s misbehaving. Feeling duped by permissive attitudes, she vows to consult biblical teachings and not popular texts when seeking counsel on mothering.

However, parents cannot raise children in the way of the cross alone; they need the assistance of institutions that affirm the values of the Christian household. The Thorntons rely on home schooling and seclusion for a period of time to reform their children, but they realize they must rejoin the world at large. To live in isolation is not a solution. In the final chapter, plans are made to return to the city and open a Christian school under the direction of Minister Dunham and his son, David, who is completing theological studies to join his father’s ministry. Hill’s The Prodigal Girl emphasizes that discipline, instruction, and prayer are fundamental to the reform of the sinner and to sustain a Christian lifestyle, and it is for this purpose the school is to be established.