“His courtesy of manner rang a little false, and Stephen looked at the English convertwith the same eyes as the elder brother in the parable may have turned on the prodigal.”
This really struck me because, if you think about it, in a lot of ways Stephen is the Prodigal Son.
In the parable, the youngest son asks for his inheritance, so the father divides his property equally between his two sons. As soon as he gets his hands on his inheritance, the younger son goes off to a distant land in another country and spends everything on prostitutes, among other material things. When he has no money left, he hires himself out to a man as a servant, tending the man’s swine. It’s hard work, and he barely has anything to eat. He realizes how much better his father’s servants have it. So he goes home, ready to apologize and offer himself as a servant to his father because he feels he is no longer worthy to be called his father’s son. However, his father cuts him off, welcoming his son home with open arms. They slaughter the fatted calf and have a huge feast to celebrate the son’s return.
Understandably, the older brother – who never disobeyed his father – is jealous. He never even got a goat to feast on with his friends. His father tells him that everything the father has is his because he is always with his father.
We can see similarities to Stephen in both of the sons in the parable. First, we have Stephen’s vision of hell:
“A field of stiff weeds and thistles and tufted nettle bunches. Thick among the tufts of rank stiff growth lay battered canisters and clots and coils of solid excrement. A faint marshlight struggled upwards from all the ordure through the bristling greygreen weeds. An evil smell, faint and foul as the light, curled upwards sluggishly out of the canisters and from the stale crusted dung …”
Like the prodigal son, Stephen realizes he needs to repent.
We also see some of the older brother in Stephen, when he wins the prize money:
“For a swift season of merrymaking the money of his prizes ran through Stephen’s fingers. Great parcels of groceries and delicacies and dried fruits arrived from the city. Every day he drew up a bill of fare for the family and every night led a party of three or four to the theater to see Ingomar or The Lady of Lyons …”
When he wins the prize money, Stephen tries to shoulder some responsibility and provide for his family. It didn’t work out, but at least he made an effort and didn’t keep all the money for himself.