Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Childybawn” is filled with Irish expressions and spellings that firmly root the story in rural Ireland: “Wisha, I dunno now where did I get that?” “Amn’t I his mother?” “You bloody ould rip of hell you!” Its title means “fair-haired child (“bawn” is an Irish word meaning “fair-haired”). Rural Ireland has changed so little over the years that the story could have been set as easily in the nineteenth century as in the twentieth; the few definitive clues to the fact that it takes place in the twentieth century include references to Angela’s wearing seamed nylon stockings and slacks, and the fact that Benjy and his mother go to the movies.

“Childybawn” appeared in the 1950’s, after Seán O’Faoláin had been publishing stories for approximately thirty years. O’Faoláin has said that his stories of that time were his first attempts to look at his countrymen with a more satirical eye. Although this story succeeds in highlighting its characters’ foibles, it relies on several strained coincidences to advance the plot. In the apparently small town in which the Spillanes reside, for example, it is hard to believe that Benjy and Angela could be romantically involved for years, much less travel regularly together to the Continent, without either the bank manager or Mrs. Spillane being aware of it. The bleeding ulcer that brings on Benjy’s near-deathbed conversion, coming shortly after his mother’s curse that she would...

(The entire section is 423 words.)