Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Who knows, the bishop asks himself, what will set us on our rightful path? Mary Lavin’s story can be seen as a study of the mysterious ways of God, for both the seminarian and the boy undergo a moral and spiritual test. Seoineen challenges God through his overweening pride in his own strength and skill. Heedless of Jimeen’s safety as well as his own, he can think only of the marvelous catch that he will bring home to the island. Later, he believes himself somehow responsible for the destruction wrought by the tidal wave and for the deaths of his family and neighbors. God has punished him, and he must live with this knowledge. He goes into self-imposed exile on the island.

Even though Seoineen chooses to set himself, however briefly, against God, his refusal to give up his nets has allowed Jimeen to become the man he is now. Seoineen is undone by pride, but Jimeen takes up his burden without regret.

This is also a story about love. A subtext is about suffering for others, even giving up one’s life for them. Jimeen, now the bishop, has dedicated his own life to God, his flock, and his friend. He is fully aware of the responsibility. His frightful boyhood experience has taught him to honor and affirm life and beauty. He has become a great and good man, a true shepherd. The bishop offers up his physical discomfort, and the emotional pain of returning to this terrible scene, as a sacrifice for his friend who lost so much in the tidal wave.