(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Taking its title from a medieval French carol, Wheat That Springeth Green, like Morte d’Urban, develops the great Christian theme of the resurrection from the dead. The novel tells the story of Joe Hackett, a midwestern Catholic diocesan priest. At age forty-four, he is pastor of a comfortable suburban church in Inglenook, Minnesota. Despite his successful building campaign, he is an unhappy man who begins drinking; he is headed for despair until his curate, Father Bill, arrives. A priest of the 1960’s, immature and idealistic, Father Bill unwittingly elicits Joe’s paternal and pastoral instincts. In his struggle to shape Father Bill into a solid, responsible priest, Joe regains his sense of vocation, abandons his suburban parish, and dedicates his life to working with the poor in a slum parish.

Although writing from a third-person point of view, Powers frequently interjects dialogue and comment within parentheses to reflect Joe’s inner thoughts or to pick up talk that he hears going on around him. For example, when Joe is discussing his building plans with the archbishop, Powers projects within parentheses Joe’s imagined interpretation of his remarks:So Joe, then living in a room in the school and quite prepared to go on living under such conditions if advised to build a new church but dearly wishing, as he’d told the Arch and his reverend consultors, to keep the best wine till last (“Wine, Archbishop? Did he say wine?”—“Means a new church, you dummy”), had got his rectory.

After briefly tracing some of Joe’s...

(The entire section is 655 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Wheat That Springeth Green traces the spiritual development of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Joe Hackett, from an adolescent display of the outward manifestations of saintliness at the seminary, through a middle period in which he sinks deeper into the ways of the world, to a final and sudden transformation in which he achieves a true and unassuming spirituality.

The novel is divided into three sections. The first section covers the main character’s youth, his time in the seminary, and his early years as a curate in a parish. The early years of Joe Hackett are ordinary, with little to suggest any deep yearning for a religious life. He says that he plans to be either “a businessman or a priest.” He is the only child of parents who own a local coal company, so business is a natural career for him. He also seems to be attracted to the life of a priest, however, since it appeals to his idealism and desire to help the poor. His youthful days end with a similar division in his career choices; he experiences a sexual initiation but then confesses that sin. Joe will not overcome this division between the body and the soul until the end of the novel.

At the seminary, Joe has a yearning for a fuller spiritual life, in contrast to both the majority of students and the faculty. This desire, however, is more a matter of pride than holiness. Joe seems to equate spirituality with wearing a hair shirt; he wears the hair shirt even after the rector has asked him not to. As a result, he becomes isolated and is in conflict with nearly everyone in the seminary. Ironically, when Joe becomes a priest in a parish, he finds that the pastor, Father Van Slagg, spends all of his time in the church pursuing the spiritual life that Joe has desired so fervently. As a result, Joe is forced to deal with the everyday events of the parish; he has no time for prayer or contemplation. He then spends five years at Archdiocesan Charities working as an administrator. He has more time for prayer but little desire to engage in contemplation. He moves further from a spiritual life with each office he holds.

In the next section, Joe is a pastor of his boyhood parish, St. Francis and...

(The entire section is 900 words.)