Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The primary motivation of William Carleton’s narrator is to illustrate a thesis: Irish peasants are inescapably governed by a superstitious fear that is intertwined with their religious faith but that is so attached to a religious object that the superstition appears pagan. The story has an almost sociological scheme. It tells of the evil one who is punished by what appears to be divine retribution, which is what the villagers expect to happen, and it also shows an evildoer repenting under the fear of that divine retribution. When Anthony Meehan shoots his daughter at the climax of the story, the narrator comments: “Shudderings, tremblings, crossings, and ejaculations marked their conduct and feeling; for though the incident in itself was simply a fatal and uncommon one, yet they considered it supernatural and miraculous.” Such a comment is designed to sum up what the narrator has demonstrated about the villagers and also to distance him from those credulous people. The rational explanation of coincidence rather that the superstitious one of divine intervention is favored by the narrator.

However, the narrator’s status as commentator is only one element of his role in creating the world of the village, and the power of the story comes from the fact that, like Carleton’s contemporaries Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the writer is more fascinated and involved with the evil character and the atmosphere surrounding that character than his...

(The entire section is 571 words.)