Major Themes

The Long Valley: Major Themes

 

 

"Castle Rock," named by George Vancouver (English explorer) in 1794. Its resemblance to the castles of England generally and Camelot in particular stoked Steinbeck’s imagination as a child. Castle Rock is in the backdrop of The Pastures of Heaven and The Long Valley. Photo by Joseph Bragdon.

"The Chrysanthemums"

Repressed Desire: "The Chrysanthemums" is replete with images of repression.  The valley is described as a lidded pot in the opening of the story: "The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.  On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot" (1).  Elisa too is symbolically hemmed in by the wire fence of her garden.  Like a closed pot, creative desires simmer under Elisa's surface.  These desires, awakened by her passionate description of her gardening abilities, nearly erupt in the presence of the traveling handyman, who manipulates Elisa in order to get some business.  She huskily tells the man, "I've never lived as you do, but I know what you mean.  When the night is dark—why, the stars are sharp-pointed, and there's quiet.  Why, you rise up and up! Every pointed star gets driven into your body.  It's like that.  Hot and sharp and –lovely" (8).  Elisa is about to reach out and touch the man, when she once again gains possession of herself and is overcome with shame.  She attempts to wash off the experience with a forceful scrubbing with a pumice rock, but she is nonetheless invigorated and faces her husband with what seems to be a new found strength after the experience.  "I'm strong," she boasts to her husband, "I never knew before how strong" (11).  Just as Elisa is overcome by a newfound sense of her own power, the lid is forced back down on the pot as she sees the chrysanthemum sprouts she has given to the handyman irreverently tossed upon the roadway.  Elisa seems to shrink back once again as she sees how her sprouts, representative of her own passionate inner nature, have been utterly devalued.

Femininity: Elisa's repressed creative and sexual desires are intimately related to her repressed femininity.  Elisa is described in very masculine terms.  She wears male clothing and is considered "strong" and "handsome" rather than pretty or womanly (2).  After Elisa's interchange with the handyman, she seems to embrace her femininity in a new way.  She flings off her soiled and masculine gardening clothes and "[…] put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness.  She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and rouged her lips" (10).  This new Elisa interests Henry as he notices something different about her.  He cannot, however, articulate her feminine appeal.  Rather, he tells her, "You look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon" (11).  Elisa is momentarily taken aback by this comment that seems to undermine her new awareness of self, but she regroups, that is, until she comes across her sprouts in the road.  Her sense of powerful femininity then shrinks back behind the guise of a weak and crying old woman.  

Unfulfilling Marriage: Elisa and Henry Allen seem to share a conventional, benign, and therefore unsatisfying marriage.  Their ranchland home is neatly divided into masculine (the orchard/farm) and feminine spheres (the garden/house) and it seems when the two cross, as when Henry leans over Elisa's garden fence, there is a sense of awkwardness, not passion or understanding.  Elisa, who is 35, is nearly beyond child bearing age and it is apparent that she has no children, which may be symbolic of sexual dissatisfaction in the marriage.  Instead, Elisa seems to have channeled her creative desires into the raising of her chrysanthemums.  Elisa, repressed and unfulfilled, whether through her husband's doing or her own, is primed to be taken advantage of by the handyman who expresses what appears to her to be a genuine interest in her talents.  Elisa exposes her vulnerabilities to this man and though she is temporarily empowered, ends up feeling weak and old once she realizes she has been duped.  

"Planting Hands": Henry describes Elisa's talents with her garden as a "gift" (2).  Elisa describes this innate ability as "planting hands" in her attempt to explain her connection to her garden to the traveling handyman.  She tells the man, "Everything goes right down into your fingertips.  You watch your fingers work.  They do it themselves.  You can feel how it is" (8).  Elisa says she has inherited this gift from her mother.  Tularecito in The Pastures of Heaven is also described as having planting hands.  Steinbeck's characters who have this gift are generally set apart as special as they have the ability to connect with the natural world more intimately than most.

 

"The White Quail"

Mental Instability: The story implies that Mary Teller is mentally unstable.  Her obsession with order, especially as it is represented by her garden, can be read as an attempt on Mary's part to keep mental instability at bay.  Mary's garden exists in her mind long before it is actually planted.  Her vision even influences her choice of husband.  She wonders of perspective mates: "'Would the garden like such a man?' For the garden was herself, and after all she had to marry some one she liked" (14).  Her chosen mate, Harry Teller, is perplexed by Mary's obsession with her garden, but humors her nonetheless calling her a "curious little bug" (17).  He eventually also comes to see the garden as a representation of what must be inside Mary's mind.  He tells her, "I wish I could see the inside of your mind.  It seems to flutter around, but it's a cool, collected mind.  It's so—sure of itself" (19).  He does not take the hint when Mary responds: "Not so awfully sure.  You don't know, and I'm glad you don't" (19).  Harry is completely unaware that the ordered garden is a façade that tenuously covers the disorder lurking beneath it.  Disorder for Mary is "the enemy" (18).  She desires protection from all that is "rough and tangled and unkempt" (18).

In Part IV, Mary experiences an odd double vision of herself as she peers into her living room window from out in the garden.  She thinks to herself, "There were two me's," […] It was like having two lives, being able to see myself.  That's wonderful.  I wonder whether I can see it whenever I want to.  I saw just what other people see when they look at me" (19).  Her comments indicate a divide between what people see on the outside while looking at Mary and how Mary feels or envisions herself in her mind.  Like Mary's identification with the garden, and later the white quail, about which she exclaims, "She's like the essence of me, an essence boiled down to utter purity[,]" her tendency to see her mind doubly projected, or projected so intently on outside objects she sees as perfect representations of her own inner nature, may be an indication of her fracture or damaged psyche.

Unfulfilling Marriage: Mary is, in a sense, an absentee wife, as her mind is literally elsewhere.  Throughout the story, Harry tries to humor his wife's wishes and defers to her needs while sacrificing his own.  Mary locks Harry out of her room at night as a "signal" that she is not interested in him, even though "[i]t seemed to make him ashamed when he turned the knob and found the door locked" (21).  Harry finally reveals his loneliness and his repressed resentment of his wife at the end of the story.  He shoots the white quail she has already told him is so important to her and defends himself saying, "I didn't mean to kill it, […] I just wanted to scare it away" (26).  The perfect shot, "[r]ight in the head, right under the eye" belies him however (26).  He chastises himself afterward, calling himself a "skunk" and drops his head in despair, crying out, "Oh, Lord, I'm so lonely!" (27). For Mary, marriage is ancillary to maintaining her garden, the primary focus of her existence.

 

"Flight"

Manhood: "Flight" recounts the tale of Pepé's journey to manhood, which is both literal and symbolic.  Pepé, the "foolish chicken" is naïve and innocent at the beginning of the story (31).  He subscribes to an idealized vision of manhood, which has more to do with the accoutrement of maleness than with actual wisdom and maturity.  He prizes most of all his father's switchblade and when sent to town, he asks to wear his father's hatband and "the silk green handkerchief" (30).  He dons these items and naively proclaims, "I am a man," as though dressing like one is all that is required (10).  The town—Monterey—symbolizes the corrupting world of knowledge and experience, and there Pepé, overcome with machismo, loses his innocence, the first step towards manhood.  The drunken Pepé, offended by a man who insults him, stabs and kills him with his father's switchblade.  He returns home a changed person, though not quite a man.  He has lost his childhood innocence, but still decides to run, rather than face the consequences of his actions.

As Pepé journeys into the wilderness, he begins shedding the accoutrement of manhood while fleeing his pursuers.  He foolishly abandons his hat, coat, and rifle, leaving a trail for his pursuers to follow.  His horse is shot out from underneath him and he leaves his water and provisions behind with the horse.  Soon he is stripped of all vestiges of humanity and becomes more like the animals that he meets along the way up the mountainside.  He is described as a "hurt beast" (47).  He crawls and scrabbles across the rocks.  He tries to speak, "but only a thick hissing came from between his lips" (47).  In pain, he "whined like a puppy" (47).  Only when Pepé is thus debased does he finally become a man.  He "pull[s] himself straight" and faces his pursuers, and his death, with his head up (48).

Survival: As Pepé's life is threatened by his pursuers, he clings instinctually to survival trying to escape at any cost.  His fear drives him forward, though he is injured, dehydrated, and in terrible pain.  Like the animals to which he is compared as he slinks along the mountainside, Pepé acts instinctually, rather than rationally, and this is part of his downfall.  Without careful thought and planning, Pepé ends up abandoning his protection and his provisions, without which he has no chance of surviving.  Only when Pepé stops clinging to survival like a wounded animal can he stand up and face death like a real man.  

 

"The Snake"

Empiricism vs. Intuitive Experience: As a biologist, Dr. Phillips is only interested in the scientific knowledge he can gain from observing and experimenting on animals.  He is disgusted by people who take "pleasure" in or make "sport of natural processes" (35).  Thus, he observes even the reproductive processes of animals with a detached eye.  Unlike Dr. Phillips, the strange woman is only interested in the non-scientific elements of the snake and the pleasure she derives from observing it kill and eat a rat.  She pays no heed to Dr. Phillips scientific narration of the events, nor does she desire to look through the microscope to see the plates he has prepared.  Her psychological/emotional desire for ownership and control of the snake for personal pleasure is juxtaposed with Dr. Phillips' control of animals for the pursuit of knowledge. Steinbeck is asking the audience to compare the two viewpoints to see how much, if any, difference exists between them.  Is there any significant difference between the seemingly bizarre pleasure the woman receives from observing her snake kill and eat a rat and the satisfaction Dr. Phillips gets out of observing the reproductive processes of starfish through a microscope lens?  The strange woman disappears and never returns, thus Steinbeck leaves the question unanswered.

Morality of Scientific Inquiry:  Part of Dr. Phillips revulsion towards the woman may emanate from a self-conscious realization about himself in her behavior.  The woman's fascination with the snake seems to make Dr. Phillips defensive about the nature of his work and he seeks to justify himself for both the woman's and his own sake with his careful explanation of his processes and reasoning for conducting his experiments.  He is disturbed by the woman's obvious pleasure in her observations and reassures himself: "He was not a sportsman but a biologist.  He could kill a thousand animals for knowledge, but not an insect for pleasure" (55).  That "[h]e'd been over this in his mind before" indicates this may be a continuing moral quandary for Dr. Phillips who seeks to distinguish himself from those who take pleasure in killing animals for what he sees as far less noble purposes.  In his line of reasoning, his stuffing of the cat in the box and gassing it in order to embalm it for biology classes is morally superior to causing the death of the rat, which is killed merely for the woman's pleasure.  But is it?  Steinbeck leaves readers to answer the question for themselves.  

Deviant Sexuality: "The Snake" abounds in sexual imagery.  First, there are the starfish whose reproductive processes Dr. Phillips plans to observe.  Then Dr. Phillips reveals that he knows his large rattlesnake is male because he caught it in "coition" with another snake (53).  The snake itself is a traditional phallic symbol.  Thus, the woman's bizarre fascination with the snake and its killing and eating of the rat can be read as a display of her own strange sexual desires, another reason Dr. Phillips is "shaken" by her behavior (55).

 

"Breakfast"

Nostalgia:  The narrator simply finds joy in remembering pleasant events. The memory of being taken in and fed by a working family reminds him of common human decency, a thing, in his view, of "great beauty" (64).  The "curious warm pleasure" he describes, like the fire which warmed his chilled hands, has a thawing effect on the cold, hard reality of an itinerant life marked only by such fleeting pleasures as a satisfying meal (61).

Hospitality: In "Breakfast" Steinbeck celebrates the hospitality that was once common in America.  The migrant workers, who are simply lucky enough to have had twelve straight days of work, and therefore food, unhesitatingly and graciously offer to share their breakfast with a complete stranger, though they are obviously poor.  Their invitation seems natural and automatic, indicating hospitality is a well-practiced virtue among them.

Migrant Work: Steinbeck implies much about the migrant workers' life in the story.  The family is obviously poor as they are living in a tent on the side of a country road.  The two men's mild sheepishness about their new clothes indicates the new clothes are a rarity and the only reason they have such a breakfast to share is because they have been lucky enough to have had twelve days of work.  Their thankfulness for such a streak indicates that twelve days of work is quite a patch of luck for them and that work, and therefore food, is sporadic.

 

"The Raid"

Sacrifice: In his admonition of Root, Dick reminds him that sacrifice is absolutely necessary in order to make advancements for the cause, even if they are tiny advancements and even if they do not come until much later down the road.  He decides the two will stay and face the raiding party and take a violent beating since some good may come of it.  Their unjust fate might be just the example the people need to realize how Capitalism takes advantage of the "little guy" in order to advance the interests of the wealthy and undeserving.  Dick is careful to leave the literature on display during the raid instead of hiding any evidence of their party affiliation, because, as he tells Root, "[…] somebody might put a book in his pocket and read it later.  Then it would be doing some good" (73).  The literature, and their beating, might take "root," as Root's name suggests, and bear fruit later on.  Steinbeck compares the men's sacrifice to Christ's, though Dick carefully disassociates himself from religion like a good Communist, in order to demonstrate how the men of the raiding party, and non-communists in general, are ignorant of the ways in which they are complicit in their own oppression and destruction.  By deciding to forgive his attackers at the end, though not in a religious manner, Root is imbuing his sense of sacrifice with meaning, believing that ultimately he did the right thing by taking a beating and that eventually some good will come of it, for both him and his ignorant attackers.  This same notion of sacrificing for the cause is explored in further detail in Steinbeck's strike novel, In Dubious Battle.

Forgiveness: The story ends with Root's reference to forgiving his attackers.  Dick is careful to disassociate such forgiveness from Christianity, however, since as a Communist, he subscribes to the philosophy that "religion is the opium of the people," or a force that numbs them to their own oppressive reality (76).  The story implies through that disassociation that the ability to forgive is intrinsically human—not an artifice dependent on any belief system. The seeming ease with which people attribute empathy and forgiveness to some outside force that cannot be explained does not figure in with the story's ideology. In fact, it undermines it. Root can forgive his attackers not because he is drugged or duped into it through artifice, but because he can experience the emotion in a natural, uninfluenced state.

Courage under Fire:  Root's primary fear in the story is that he will run when confronted by the raiding party.  He admits to Dick, "I never been tried.  How do I know what I'll do if somebody smacks me in the face with a club?  How can anybody tell what he'd do?  I don't think I'd run.  I'd try not to run" (67).  As Root's anxiety grows while the two men wait to meet their fate, readers are left to wonder in suspense what his response will ultimately be.  Under Dick's cold and critical gaze, Root does step forward and take a severe beating for the cause.  Dick congratulates him later in the hospital telling him, "You done fine, kid," ironically referring to him as kid even though he has proven his courage in battle (76).

 

"The Harness"

Repression:  The web harness Emma forces Peter to wear is symbolic of their repressed existence.  Aside from the physical harness, Peter is repressed by other powerful forces in the story.  The first is social expectation.  Peter is well-respected in the community and that respect emanates from the town's outward view of his impeccable appearing life.  His well kept home, regular and predictable marriage, and even his good posture, ironically forced by the underlying harness, combine to create this outward appearance of respectability.  No one has any inkling that underneath the polished exterior lays the drunken and lustful transgressions that are necessary for Peter to maintain his outward appearance of respectability and that, at the same time, are the biggest threat to its maintenance.  Secondly, there is the iron will of his wife, which is poignantly represented by the harness.  "I don't know how she made me do things," Peter muses to Ed as he tries to explain his wearing of the harness, "She had a way of doing it" (85).  Her most powerful artillery is her illness, which incites the guilt that constrains Peter.  He feels bad that she is ill, so he does what she wants.  Because he does want she wants, he must go to town and transgress.  Because he transgresses, Emma's illness is exacerbated and he bends to her will with further guilt and shame so he is caught in a tight-knit, vicious cycle of repression, release, and guilt that he is unable to escape, even after Emma's death.

Unfulfilling Marriage: Emma and Peter live an outwardly conventional, conservative, and passionless life together.  Peter is respected in the community and Emma admired for her perseverance in her illness.  Having no children, their "unscarred, uncarved, unchalked" home is prim and proper (79).  Things are ordered and regularly maintained.  Much like their home, Emma and Peter's relationship is regular, ordered, and proper, except for Peter's annual transgression.  Peter blames the stifling regularity of the relationship for his "business trips" (77).  He tells Ed after her death: "I'd'a busted if I hadn't got away" (84).  Peter requires the drunken and sexual release in order to maintain his ordered and regular life with his ailing wife the other 51 weeks of the year. 

 

"The Vigilante"

Collective Behavior/Group Man/Phalanx Theory: From his studies in biology, Steinbeck believed the tendency of the natural world was to combine individual, yet interdependent parts into unified wholes, called superorganisms, which take on larger and more complex significance than any individual component possesses in isolation.  Since, like other organisms, humans exhibit characteristics as part of a group that they do not necessarily possess as individuals, Steinbeck found it useful to apply the concept of the superorganism to human behavior.  He referred to this concept as the "phalanx," a term taken from an ancient Greek warfare maneuver in which soldiers grouped together in dense units to form an impenetrable wall of protection.  In much of his fiction, Steinbeck examines the ways in which humans either succeed or fail in their attempts at achieving the orderly cooperation necessary for ensuring the continued survival of the whole.  He also strives to reconcile human individuality with people's intense drive to be part of the larger and often oppressive and dangerous wholes constructed by culture (also commonly known as mob mentality). 

Steinbeck presents Mike as a case study to show what happens to individuals in mobs.  Mike, having recently been part of a lynch-mob, is introduced as one whose senses are dulled and disconnected.  Mike seems to be almost in a drug-induced trance and is not quite sure what has happened to him.  Even though he knows the lynching was a "terrible and important affair," Mike cannot grasp its significance (94).  Like a sleep walker, he wanders away from the scene and once he leaves the presence of the mob, he feels lonely and is driven to seek to company of others.  As he enters an open bar, "He hoped there would be people there, and talk, to remove this silence; and he hoped the men wouldn't have been to the lynching" (94-95).  Not surprisingly, Mike finds the bar empty as readers get the sense that participants in the lynch mob seem not to desire to gather in groups to discuss the event.

As Mike describes the events of the evening to the lone bartender Welch, he defends his behavior by reciting the newspaper's charges that the victim was a "fiend" and he tells Welch twice that he thought the man was dead before they hanged him from a blow to the head, perhaps in an attempt to wash his hands of the actual murder since he "helped pull on the rope" (95). Strangely, memories of the event come back to Mike piecemeal as though he was not in his conscious mind when the events were actually taking place.  A pain in his chest reminds him he had nearly forgotten how he was shoved up against the bars as the mob tried to get the prisoner out of his cell. Mike also becomes quite defensive when Welch wonders "what kind of fella he was," vehemently insisting the victim got what he deserved (98).  Overall, it seems Mike is not quite sure what has happened to him and he seems to feel a little guilty about being swept up in the mob.

Mike's guilt is called into question at the end of the story when he meets his wife who accuses him of being out with another woman.  She asks Mike, "You think I can't tell by the look on your face that you been with a woman?" (99).  Later, when Mike sees his face in the mirror, he says to himself, "By God, she was right," […] That's just exactly how I do feel" (100).  Readers can interpret his exclamation in two ways.  First, readers can assume Mike looks sheepish and guilty upon confronting his wife and that is why she assumes he has been out with another woman.  Or, Mike may sport the look of glazed sexual satisfaction, which would imply rather than feeling guilty about his participation in the lynch mob, he received some sort of satisfaction from it—a satisfaction that comes from his participation in a group killing that is socially sanctioned in a way one man's murder of another is not.  Either way, it is clear Mike, as a participant in the lynch mob, becomes something he is otherwise not in his ordinary life.  How guilty he feels for being swept up in the fray is questionable.      

Steinbeck dramatizes similar concepts of collective behavior in works such as In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Moon is Down, and examines the concept of group man from a scientific perspective in The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

Racism: Racism is the impetus for the events Steinbeck dramatized in "The Vigilante" and is one of those counterproductive philosophies Steinbeck shows is spread by group mentality in very dangerous ways.  Mike's discussion with Welch reveals how easily his perceptions are influenced by larger, general opinions of African-Americans.  In his defense, Mike quotes the newspaper as though it were an authority telling Welch, the victim must be a "fiend" because the papers say so.  He tells Welch, "The papers all said he was a fiend.  I read all the papers.  That's what they all said" (98).  The story implies that this kind of "unthinkingness" makes individuals susceptible to participation in mobs that are guided by group assumptions and passions rather than rational individual thought.  

 

"Johnny Bear"

Community Conscience/Village Honor: Alex Hartnell tries to explain the importance of the Hawkins sisters to the narrator after Johnny Bear intimates a little too much about their personal lives to the community.  He refers to them as the village aristocrats and as a "symbol" of goodness, moral fortitude, and charity.  He tells the narrator: "They're what we tell our kids when we want to—well, to describe good people" (109).  He calls them "[t]he safe thing, […] The place where a kid can get gingerbread.  The place where a girl can get reassurance.  They're proud, but they believe in things we hope are true" (116).  He admits, "It wouldn't be good for any of us if the Hawkins sisters weren't the Hawkins sisters" (116).  Alex's comments demonstrate how important it is for the mostly lonely, hopeless, and beer guzzling villagers of Loma to have something to look up to as good and pure in their lives.  They need to believe in the existence of "goodness" and "purity" and the Hawkins sisters have come to represent that existence in the community conscience.  Johnny Bear's revelation threatens to destroy the ideal truth the community has built around the sisters.  Alex strives to prevent that since he knows the results could be disastrous.  These men, living on the border between the wild and civilization, need to know there is civilized goodness among them to prevent them from degenerating.   

Secrecy/Gossip: Apparently everyone in Loma enjoys a good piece of gossip—when it is harmless.  They ply Johnny Bear with whiskey to get him to perform for their entertainment and to satisfy their curiosity about one another.  They are amused when Johnny Beat reveals seemingly harmless information about the narrator's rendezvous with Mae Romero and someone's complaint about the butcher.  But when Johnny Bear crosses a socially acceptable line and reveals damaging information about the personal lives of the Hawkins sisters, the patrons of the Buffalo Bar learn an important lesson.  There are some things you are better off not knowing about a person, especially things that have the potential to destroy the significant "truths" that give meaning to people's lives.

Mental "Defectives": Johnny Bear is one of several Steinbeck characters, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men and Tularecito in The Pastures of Heaven, who are considered mentally handicapped and suffer because they cannot function in conventional society.  The villagers of Loma take advantage of Johnny Bear for their own entertainment and to satisfy their curiosity about one another.  They not only contribute to what is likely his alcoholism, but once he crosses a line and unknowingly offends their sensibilities by besmirching the Hawkins sisters' reputation, they turn on him and allow Alex Hartnell and Fat Carl to beat him. 

 

"The Murder"

The Double Standard: While it is perfectly acceptable for Jim Moore to carouse with prostitutes in Monterey, even his wife seems not to mind, it is totally unacceptable for Jelka to have an extra-marital affair, so much so, that the law turns a blind eye to the murder of Jelka's cousin.  The deputy sheriff tells Jim, "Of course there's a technical charge of murder against you, but it'll be dismissed.  Always is in this part of the country" (132).  Additionally, Jim's beating of his wife is socially acceptable, not only in his wife's culture, but in his own as well.  The deputy sheriff warns Jim not to refrain from beating his wife, but to "[g]o kind of light on [her]" (132).  Thus, Jelka has no protection from her family or under the law, even if she wanted it.  Jelka does not seek protection, however.  Rather she seems satisfied with the beating and returns to her dutiful position of housewife immediately afterwards.  Additionally, she seems to seek reassurance that there will be beatings in the future.  She asks, "Will you whip me any more—for this?" (134). After Jim replies, "No, not any more, for this," but implies perhaps for other things, "[h]er eyes smiled" (134).

Racism: Jelka is first described as a Jugo-slav girl whose husband seems to appreciate her mostly for her looks: "Jim was not proud of her foreign family, of her many brothers and sisters and cousins, but he delighted in her beauty" (122).  He is also repulsed by her drunken father who advises Jim to beat Jelka from time to time.  Jelka's race and culture seem to be the reason she ultimately likes being beat.  Her father tells Jim: "Jelka is a slav girl.  He's not like American girl. If he is bad, beat him.  If he's good too long, beat him too.  I beat his mama.  Papa beat my mama.  Slav girl!  He's not like a man that don't beat hell out of him" (122).  Her response at the end of the story seems to prove her father is correct.

 

"Saint Katy the Virgin"

"Saint Katy the Virgin" parodies several traditional Catholic beliefs:

Redemption: Katy's conversion mocks the debate between whether one is saved through good works or by faith alone.

Original Sin: That Katy's evil is the result of Roark's influence implies her evil is not intrinsic and she is not marred by original sin.

Exorcism: Exorcising a pig mocks the belief that both humans and animals can be possessed by evil spirits.  It might also be an allusion to the biblical story in which Christ sends the demons that possessed a man into a herd of pigs that then drown themselves in the sea.

Sainthood:  Katy is ultimately declared a saint after spinning on her tail for one and three quarter hours thus mocking the "miracles" of the saints.

Virginity: Katy is declared a virgin, even though it is known she had given birth to a litter of piglets—an allusion to the virginity and perceived sinlessness of the Virgin Mary.

Faith in Relics: Katy's bones, in their ability to cure a woman of her "hair mole," mocks the Medieval belief in the healing properties of the saints' relics, such as remains and belongings, that were assumed to have great spiritual and healing powers.