The Seemingly Perfect City of Prester
In his short story A City of Churches, David Barthelme explores the ideas of religion as a controlling force, individualism, and perfection. The city of Prester strives to achieve the unattainable attribute of perfection. The real estate agent, Mr. Phillips, blatantly states, “We are like other towns, except that we are perfect.” (123). He is lying through his teeth and knows for a fact that Prester lacks the vitality that is a necessary component in any society. In this story, religion is used to hide the individual personalities of the people and their flaws. When Cecelia visits, she realizes that this place doesn’t fulfill its reputation. It is a city that is outwardly wholesome, but inwardly disturbed. Since a life of conformity is all that the citizens of Prester have known, they are unaware of how to be individuals. They are lost in confusion and need an outside mind, such as Cecelia, to pull them out of the sea of conformity in which they are drowning. Conformity is a trait of the town that causes a lack of individualism within its people. This lack of individualism turns the people against one another in the race to be perfect. Religion is conscripted upon the people. After they associate themselves with a religion, the people then associate themselves with each other, and lose sight of who they really are. The buildings in Prester reflect all of the problems present in Prester while Cecelia has the ability to bulldoze down the buildings and all of the problems that go along with them. By creating a society with no individuals, Barthelme creates a seemingly perfect city, which deep down is flawed by cracks and crevices in the foundation. But how can a perfect house, or for this story’s sake, church be built if the foundation isn’t? Religion is something that was created to bring people with common beliefs together. Today, religion focuses on giving the opportunity to feel part of a community, rather than letting...
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