Among his central themes was the fundamental question of good and evil, which he examined through such figures as the medieval red-hooded hangman, Barabbas, and the wandering Jew Ahasuerus. As a moralist, he used religious motifs and figures from the Christian tradition without following the doctrines of the Church.
Lagerkvist's most famous novel Barabbas (1950) was immediately hailed as a masterwork (by among others fellow Nobel Prize in literature winner André Gide). The novel is based on the story from the Bible; When thief and murderer Barabbas is freed by the people of Judea rather than Jesus of Nazareth, the criminal struggles to understand why he was chosen to live.
From the back cover:
Notes on some other works by the author (far from a complete list!):
One of the author's earliest works is Ångest (Anguish, 1916), a violent and disillusioned collection of poems. His anguish was derived from his fear of death, the World War, and personal crisis. He tried to explore how a person can find a meaningful life in a world where a war can kill millions for very little reason. "Anguish, anguish is my heritage / the wound of my throat / the cry of my heart in the world." (Anguish, 1916.). "Love is nothing. Anguish is everything / the anguish of living." (Love is nothing, 1916.)
Ten years later Hjärtats sånger (Songs of the Heart) (1926) appeared. This collection of poem is slightly less desperate in its tone and expresses the strive to come to peace with life itself that was to become so prominent in his later works. In Hjärtats sånger he wrote: "Only you, my bosom, is left, / you who can suffer, / you who can feel the deoth of pain / but not compain."
His novella, later adapted for the stage, Bödeln (The Hangman, 1933; play, 1934) shows his growing concern with the totalitarianism that began to sweep across Europe in the years prior to World War II.
His 1944 novel Dvärgen (The Dwarf), a cautionary tale about evil, was the first to bring him international attention.