Study Guide

The Man of the World

by Frank O'Connor

The Man of the World Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The protagonist, Larry, is a naïve, very young person who knows nothing of the world. Unable to see beyond the appearances of things, he takes everything and everyone at face value. He is first seen in a comic light taking his possessions to spend a few days at his friend’s house. He calls this ordinary experience a holiday, and the neighbors laugh at his pretension and innocence. His friend, Jimmy Leary, considers himself to be a man of the world and looks down on nearly everyone in the neighborhood; however, he is willing, even proud, to teach Larry the knowledge of the world he has precociously acquired. He is authoritative about the true nature of women and the neighbors’ economic condition; this knowledge is defined, in Larry’s words, as sophisticated.

Larry ardently anticipates the promised change that will move him from the world of appearances to understanding the true reality represented by Jimmy’s sophistication. He does have doubts about what this initiation will involve; however, when he sees his parents at home in the world, he is troubled by what he is about to learn. He goes to his friend’s house to spy on a young couple in the next house. They have recently moved in, and the frugal landlady has not provided the place with shades. Jimmy has promised to show Larry a few things, and Larry agrees because he wishes to become like Jimmy.

The hidden reality that is to be revealed is apparently a sexual one. This is clearly suggested by the repeated use of the word “sophisticated” and the proposed spying on a young married couple. Jimmy is described as being a collector of such illegitimate probing into people’s lives; however, when they spy on the couple, the boys discover them praying rather than making love. Larry suddenly feels he is intruding on something intimate and personal. He feels the presence of eternity watching him.