Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Edna O’Brien’s story revolves around the tensions that build when a mother, her grown son, and his girlfriend holiday together in a foreign land. Its foremost theme is the process through which forgiveness—which gives the story its title—comes about, especially for the young, who seem to find forgiveness a more spontaneous, if not easier, response to hurt and sorrow. While the tensions between Eileen and Penny seem “natural” in the sense that Penny represents for Eileen a kind of “replacement” of the mother figure in Mark’s life, Eileen’s outburst in the car and the resulting emotional damage it causes are inexcusable. However, after a day of separation and mutual exploration, Mark and Penny discover the means to reestablish the triangle while Eileen discovers that without Mark and Penny’s company, her visit to Italy means little. It is not until Mark and Penny return that Eileen can see that her sense of emptiness is linked to her inability to forgive even herself. The theme of forgiveness, then, follows on the heels of violence and emptiness.

This underlying theme of the relationship between violence and forgiveness is expressed through Eileen’s emotional outburst and is mirrored in the violence of the next day’s weather. Alone during the storm, Eileen has ample time to reflect on the disagreement and work herself into a state of anxiety over the safety of the couple. She goes so far, in fact, as to imagine that the car door...

(The entire section is 434 words.)