‘‘Guests of the Nation’’ is probably Frank O’Connor’s most widely read story. It was published in the 1931 collection of the same name after appearing in the Irish Statesman. O’Connor’s experiences as a member of the Irish Republican Army during ‘‘the Troubles’’ (Ireland’s struggle to establish self-rule) shaped his attitudes and gave him much material for his writings. Despite his strong support of the Irish cause and his own desires to see Ireland become free from British domination, his stories often show, as Patricia Robinson writes, that ‘‘in war, hatred and revenge drive out ethical and moral intelligence.’’
In ‘‘Guests of the Nation,’’ men from both sides of the struggle are thrust together. They argue, play cards, discuss politics and religion, and generally behave as though they are not part of the armed conflict that surrounds them. Then Feeney brings the news that the Irishmen have been ordered to execute the Englishmen. O’Connor now makes his strongest point that ideological differences are fleeting and relatively unimportant.
Ruth Sherry observes that O’Connor was ‘‘suspicious of heroics’’ and put little emphasis on the physical aptitudes of his characters. The characters in his stories are ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations. They struggle to make sense of their circumstances and come to conclusions based on that struggle.
The understated method he uses makes this issue even more poignant. Without lecturing to his readers he makes the point that political differences are trivial in comparison to life and death. O’Connor takes the reader into the internal struggles of several of the characters in this short tale. He offers no hard answers but allows the readers to come to an answer for themselves. Therein lies the power of this story and other stories by O’Connor.