‘Prodigal’ by Laura D. Nichols

Prodigal by Laura D. Nichols, 1930

The magic trick:

Managing to construct a pro-church story out of a seething critique of church-goers

I think we’ve all read and seen plenty of criticisms of organized religion in art. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like this, though. “Prodigal” portrays a congregation so flawed and so very cynical its members complain following a sermon that the preacher should be ashamed for attacking those sinners who commit adultery because “Don’t he know he’s hittin’ some of the best givers in the church?” Now that’s a pretty angry societal critique.

It works brilliantly within the narrative, too, because the happy ending (spoiler, sorry) redeems not the churchgoers but the notion of what positive effects church can have. And that’s quite a trick on Nichols’s part.

The selection:

On the steps a group of deacons and other officers of the church smoked and spat and studied. Deacon Jones grumbled, “Collection was powerful small this mornin’. That man go’ ruin hisself yet. Better be studyin’ bout them hungry children o’ his’n, stead o’ insultin’ some o’ his best payin’ members.” The old man spat viciously into space.


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