Wheat That Springeth Green Characters

J. F. Powers

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Joe Hackett is the protagonist of the novel; the point of view is limited omniscient, and everything is filtered through his consciousness. He is a man and a priest with many faults. His early attempts at spirituality come more from pride than love of God. He wears a hair shirt to show his saintliness, but it is merely an outward sign. He is closer to the Pharisees of the New Testament than to Christ. He soon discovers that he has no time to develop his spiritual side; he must spend all of his time attending to the business of the parish. When he becomes a pastor, all spiritual thoughts seem to vanish. His life as a pastor is marked by visits to the liquor store and by watching television with a drink, and his pride has been replaced by an acceptance of worldly things. His one heroic moment is ironically linked to the world; he prevents a robbery at his local liquor store. There is, however, a yearning in Joe for a fuller and truly spiritual life, which he finds at the end of the novel.

Bill Schmidt is Joe’s curate, and he begins as a typical young priest who wishes to overturn all the rules and practices of the church. His rebellion is a mirror image of the earlier stance of Joe, and he helps Joe to see himself more fully. In addition, Bill acts as a goad to challenge Joe’s life of ease. Bill’s friendship with a dropout from the seminary creates conflict between him and Joe, but Bill gradually changes as he sees the irresponsibility of his earlier...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Joe Hackett

Joe Hackett, a Roman Catholic priest. Always at odds with the status quo, Joe has some sexual adventures in his teens but eventually opts for priesthood and celibacy. In his seminary days, Joe practices severe asceticism, including wearing a hair shirt; he also attempts contemplative prayer. At his first Mass, he fights the pastor’s custom of taking up a special collection. After assignments as curate at Holy Faith and assistant director at Catholic Charities, Joe is made pastor of St. Francis and Clare Church in Inglenook. He does away with the envelope system of church contributions while building a convent, school, and rectory. He never talks about money from the pulpit. Joe’s priestly friends are few, but he and his first curate, Bill Schmidt, form a bond in the midst of many humorous intergenerational conflicts. Joe learns that neither asceticism nor contemplation makes a good priest and that fidelity to Gospel principles, working with people, and completing mundane tasks such as typing—the unheroic life as a priest—is the cross. Joe has traits of a prophet, as well as good sense. Joe drinks heavily, eats well, and is an avid baseball fan. At the age of forty-four, many problems arise for Joe, including the diocese’s assessment of a sum beyond Joe’s financial assets. Miraculously, Joe receives a bequest from the priest with whom he had fought over funds at his first Mass. At the book’s end, Joe is assigned to Holy Cross Parish.

Bill Schmidt

Bill Schmidt, Joe’s first curate, who arrives late wearing jeans and a t-shirt, driving an orange car and lacking typing skills. Bill’s 1960’s ideals and behaviors mirror Joe’s after ordination, but Joe does not see that. In their relationship, Joe coaches compassionately and Bill matures. Joe faces himself more honestly and mellows. Bill’s loyalty to Joe is clear when he...

(The entire section is 776 words.)