Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 634
Early one morning, the tired Mr. Ashfield hands over his son, Harry, to a baby-sitter, Mrs. Connin. Although she has been at work all night, she will keep Harry with her until late that evening. Before leaving the Ashfields’ apartment, Mrs. Connin criticizes the cigarette butts that she smells and the modern art that she sees on the wall, and she hears that Mrs. Ashfield, Harry’s mother, is ill. As she and Harry leave, she tells the boy that she will take him today to see the Reverend Bevel Summers, who will be conducting a healing service by a local river. When she notices Harry has no handkerchief, she lends him one. As they wait for a trolley, Mrs. Connin asks Harry his first name, and he lies, telling her it is Bevel. She is pleased to hear this and says Harry will have to meet the young reverend, who is a good preacher although he cannot heal Mrs. Connin’s husband, who is currently in the hospital. Harry says he wants to be healed, even though all that is wrong with him is that he is hungry. When Mrs. Connin falls asleep on the trolley, Harry hides her handkerchief inside his coat.
In Mrs. Connin’s small house away from the city, Harry sees photographs on her walls as well as a picture of Jesus. Mrs. Connin’s three sons lead Harry to their pigpen, where they trick him into releasing a pig. Harry expects pigs to look clean and cheery, as in children’s books, but the pig that chases him is gray and dirty, with a damaged ear. When Mrs. Connin realizes that Harry does not recognize Jesus in her picture, she reads to him from an old book, The Life of Jesus for Readers Under Twelve. In the book, Harry sees Jesus driving pigs out of a man. Harry hides the book inside his coat when Mrs. Connin is not looking.
When Harry, Mrs. Connin, and her children arrive at the healing service, they hear the Reverend Bevel Summers warning people that they should be present for Jesus, not just for healing—that the river that matters, the one that heals, is the river of Jesus’s blood, which leads to the Kingdom of Christ. A large, old man with cancer over his ear, Mr. Paradise, heckles the preacher. Mrs. Connin introduces Harry to the preacher, points out that both are named Bevel, and asks him to pray for Mrs. Ashfield. Harry is struck by the man’s seriousness and agrees to be baptized so he can go to the Kingdom of Christ, which he imagines is under the river, instead of going home. After his baptism, Harry tells the preacher that his mother’s illness is a hangover, at which point Mr. Paradise laughs loudly.
When Harry reaches home, his parents are having a party. Mrs. Connin is shocked to learn that Bevel is not the boy’s name and that his parents disapprove of his baptism; she leaves without being paid. Mrs. Ashfield discovers the book Harry has taken, and her guests comment on its high monetary value. As Mrs. Ashfield puts Harry to bed, he says that the reverend told him he is changed.
The next morning, Harry wakes up first, scrounges for food, rubs cigarette ashes into the rug, and decides to return to the river. Mrs. Connin’s house is empty when Harry passes by, but as Harry passes Mr. Paradise’s gas station, Mr. Paradise spies him and follows. When Harry enters the river to go to the Kingdom of Christ, he has trouble going under the water and staying there. When Harry sees Mr. Paradise coming after him, looking to Harry like a pig, Harry goes under the water again and drowns.
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