Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this story, as in many of his stories, Frank O’Connor realistically treats the often harsh realities of life in rural Ireland. The story details a young boy’s journey from innocence to maturity and depicts Larry’s ultimate understanding of adult realities. The reader understands that Larry, the narrator and protagonist, did in fact learn important lessons on that Christmas morning, because early in the story Larry indicates that he was not very good in school until the age of nine or ten. In fact, before his epiphany on Christmas morning, Larry did not participate at all in his education: He did not understand math, he disliked reading and spelling, and he skipped school. Before the revelation that concludes the story, he is blinded by the natural selfishness of a child; because he plays with troublemakers, dreams of becoming a soldier, and is engaged in his own naïve world, he fails to see the difficulties that exist in his mother’s world.

On Christmas morning, however, after he is admonished for exchanging his present for his brother’s present, he suddenly realizes that his mother—a lonely, frightened woman—is at the mercy of his father, a brutal drunkard, who squanders the housekeeping money on liquor.

He also realizes that his mother’s dreams of escape are focused directly on him, the older son. Although his discovery that Santa Claus is not real has been “almost more than [he] could bear,” he has learned a more important lesson: The future of his family depends on his growing up with values different from his father’s.