The Robe gives readers a feeling for what it must have been like to live in the environs of Jerusalem during the beginning of Christianity. The government of Rome is shown to be riddled with intrigue, corruption, and brutality, the better to contrast with Christian teachings of harmony, love, and peace.
The robe of Christ is not treated as an artifact with miraculous powers. Rather, it serves as a reminder of Christ’s life and teachings to those who possess it. Christian believers in the novel are reluctant to share their belief with others who might not accept the idea of a Jewish Messiah arisen from the dead. They prefer to witness their faith by their kindness, acceptance of one another, and willingness to share their belongings with those in need. While Lloyd C. Douglas does not present Christians as morally superior to other characters, exposure to Christ’s teachings is shown to lift people from a plane of selfishness and despair to a new level of awareness, compassion, and joy. Menial laborers, when taught Christianity by example and then precept, cease being dissatisfied with their lot and enjoy helping one another. Employers learn to supervise by love and trust rather than by threats and criticism. Tyrannical leaders lose their effectiveness when Christian subjects are unafraid to die.
Spanning a range of localities and countries from Rome to Athens to Cyprus to Jerusalem to Galilee, The Robe offers readers a panoramic overview and an action-filled epic drama. They are treated to brief personal sightings of famous historical figures: Jesus Christ, Simon Peter the fisherman, John the Beloved, Stephen the martyr, Herod’s daughter Salome, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman caesars Tiberius and Caligula. These cameos dot a sweeping tale that includes romance, humor, pathos, and tragedy, amid an exciting, action-filled journey of adventure and mystery that is meant to provide emotional uplift rather than instruction.
Christian doctrine is not explained in detail; many tenets are ignored in the onrush of plot events. Douglas leaves it up to readers to decide the extent of their belief, preferring instead to show the attractive qualities of discipleship and the world-changing potential of a movement based on love and cooperation rather than competition and force.