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The central theme of the short story "First Confession" is embodied in its title: Jackie must face a rite of passage into human responsibility by learning the rite of Catholic religious confession and must act as a man and confess to his priest his shortcomings and sins. This involves not just an action and an event, it involves theological comprehension of religious and spiritual truths and the metaphysical function of comprehending how external general rules apply to one's self. This theme is supported and deepened by the sibling rivalry and the refusal of adults to see (or respond correctly to) the manipulations and mechanizations of a cruel sibling toward a milder one or weaker one. In conjunction with this O'Connor presents the theme of a loving and sympathetic relationship between mother and son, a relationship saddened by the mother's absence at the Confession event. Finally the mother-son theme is juxtaposed to the theme of the sympathetic compassion--or lack thereof--of a boy's priest and confessor, since O'Connor believed that the right sort of priest could present the greatest influence possible in the parishioners' lives, parishioners such as Jackie.
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