Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This story begins one way and ends another. The shifting nature of the story is balanced by the shifting perception of the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy, a teacher who wants to be considered a writer, though his writing seems to be confined to journalism. The opening exposition suggests that the story mainly will concern a social event, “the Misses Morkan’s annual dance,” held during the Christmas season, at which the Morkans’ favorite nephew, Gabriel, and his wife, Gretta, are significant guests because Gabriel serves as master of ceremonies. The impact of the story, however, comes much later, after Gabriel has left the party and is confronted with new information about his wife and her past.
The cast of characters at the Morkan house is large and representative of many Irish stereotypes: the Morkan sisters, Kate and Julia, who are musically inclined spinsters; their musical niece, Mary Jane; and other assorted characters, ranging from Miss Molly Ivors, the Irish nationalist, to Freddy Malins, whose sobriety is a matter of continuing concern. On his arrival, however, Gabriel is defined as the focal character, a man who is a little too proud of his education and sophistication, foolishly smug and superior, but aware nevertheless of his social awkwardness. Gabriel is expected to perform as an after-dinner speaker and is condescending in his assessment of his audience. Gabriel is destined, however, to learn a lesson in humility before the story is over.
Gabriel Conroy is bored by his country, his relatives, and his colleagues and their provincial ways. Molly Ivors criticizes him for his lack of interest in Irish politics, for writing for The Daily Express (the slant is “West Briton” rather than properly Irish, she asserts), and for his preference for...
(The entire section is 733 words.)
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