Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Wheat That Springeth Green has many themes. The first deals with the dual roles of a Catholic priest. A priest is supposed to spend his life in prayer and contemplation in order to be brought closer to God. Yet he also has to involve himself in fund-raising, building, supervising a school, and seeing to the administration of a parish if the church is to be sustained. Paradoxically, it is harder for a man who has supposedly dedicated his life to God to find time to speak with God; a priest has to serve both God and Mammon. Neither Father Van Slagg’s life of prayer nor Father Stock’s worldliness resolves the dilemma. Joe Hackett does not seem able to find a way out of this dilemma, and his interaction with people inside and outside the church is deficient in spirituality. It is only when Joe truly gives himself to others by working at a Catholic Workers home for derelicts that he discovers a spiritual role within the world. He is then called on to make sacrifices and give up his ease and desire for the things of the world.

Powers also examines the contrast between true and false spirituality. False spirituality is portrayed as relying on outward signs such as the hair shirt. It calls attention to the person performing self-conscious rites and isolates a person from others. Powers shows these practices as pretentious and unfulfilling. True spirituality consists of unassuming deeds rather than public displays of sanctity. When Joe accepts the...

(The entire section is 504 words.)