Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
An unconscious man is found in the lavatory of a Dublin bar. He has hurt himself in a fall and will discover that he has bitten off the tip of his tongue. After being helped to his feet by strangers, the man—who is named Tom Kernan—is assisted home by a friend, Mr. Power, and put straight to bed. Later, as Power and Kernan’s wife discuss Kernan’s condition, they decide to enlist his friends in an effort to reform him. “We’ll make a new man of him,” Power assures Mrs. Kernan.
Two days later, the plan is set in motion, when Mr. M’Coy, Mr. Cunningham, and Power visit Kernan, who is still recovering in bed. After some wandering discussion regarding Kernan’s accident, the ill effects of drinking, and the state of the Dublin constabulary, Kernan’s friends casually mention that they are going on a retreat sponsored by the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic church. “Yes, that’s it,” Cunningham reveals. “Jack and I and M’Coy here—we’re all going to wash the pot.” As if suddenly inspired, they invite Kernan to join them. He hesitates but agrees to go after they assure him that the retreat “is for business men.”
Kernan, a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism when he married, cannot resist making pointed jabs at the Church and its doctrines. His three visitors, all practicing Catholics, take great pains to explain the doctrines to him, especially a relatively new one concerning papal infallibility. Their explanations silence Kernan but do not entirely convince him.
The final section of the story is a brief report, in flat, stolid style, of the retreat held at the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street, and the priest’s sermon. From the story’s presentation, the event is, indeed, very “businesslike.”