Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At first glance, there is little in this story to suggest that there are any deep themes or meanings. Indeed, for all practical purposes, the story looks like little more than a satirical sketch on life in the west of Ireland. By using the name Praiseach, O’Flaherty seemingly wishes to create a portrait of chaos, confusion, and formlessness. In this he is successful, but there is far more to the story than simply unbridled confusion.

This story is about a clash between two cultures, the traditional and the modern, and how the former is helpless when faced with the latter. As postmaster of Praiseach, an “obscure and miserable village,” Martin Conlon represents the old tradition. The young women, on the other hand, represent all that is modern in the world, with their sleek cars, clothes, and manners. The young man, with his fancy clothes yet fluent Irish, stands as a bridge between the two cultures.

The clash between the two cultures comes over the sending of the telegram, itself a representation of the modern culture. When presented with this challenge, the traditional culture—represented by Martin—simply cannot respond. Indeed, Martin’s sole reaction is precisely in tune with the name of his village: confusion. It is the American woman, the symbol of modern culture, who finally completes the telegram.

O’Flaherty also seems to believe that this modern culture will eventually take over the traditional, for the young man, standing as a bridge between the two cultures, certainly favors the modern side. He is humbled by it, telling the soldier that he is not good enough for the American woman. However, at the same time, he takes great pleasure in mocking the traditional culture of Praiseach.