The Drunkard Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A first-person narrative by the adult Larry Delaney, “The Drunkard” opens with his recollection of a critical episode in his childhood. The crisis began with the death of his father’s friend and confidant, Mr. Dooley. Larry’s father, Mick Delaney, took Mr. Dooley’s death very hard, not only because Mr. Dooley was about the same age as he but also because he lost in Mr. Dooley his best source of inside information, of “the news behind the news.” To express the depth of his mourning, Mick Delaney decides to attend the funeral, a decision that causes Larry and his mother great anxiety. Mick Delaney will be tempted at the public house afterward; as Larry recalls, “Drink . . . was Father’s great weakness.” Consequently, Larry’s mother sends Larry along to act as a “brake” on his father. With humor and poignancy, the narrative records the boy’s feeling of utter ineffectualness, as his father pulls him into a public house, where the boy expects, one more time, to stand helplessly by, watching his father get drunk. His father bribes him with a lemonade while ordering beer for himself. Thereafter oblivious to the child, he turns away from the bar to expatiate on the merits of the funeral. In the meanwhile, Larry, bored and still thirsty, samples and then finishes his father’s drink. In turn, Larry becomes drunk, noisy, and sick. Larry’s father, assisted by a barroom friend, is obliged to bring his sick, drunken child home in broad daylight, before the astonished eyes of all his neighbors, while Larry, in his drunken state, mimics the belligerent behavior that he has observed in his father’s past drinking bouts. Mrs. Delaney returns home in a rage, prompted by her neighbors to conclude that her husband and his crony have plied the child with drink for their amusement; her husband, feeling increasingly sorry for himself, tries unsuccessfully to explain. The next day, when Mick Delaney quietly goes off to work, the mother’s mood changes, and she praises and pampers Larry for having proved indeed to be his father’s “guardian angel.”