Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

O’Connor demonstrates his mastery of technique in several ways in this story. He makes special use of his first-person narrator, Ted Magner, to present the decay of Terry Coughlan from a highly personal perspective. Readers are not disinterested viewers of Terry’s decay because of the way in which Magner tells the story. In addition, O’Connor makes effective use of colloquial Irish speech. Moreover, O’Connor displays the Irish sense of humor that one expects to find in his stories, having fun with such characters as Donnelan and with Pa Hourigan, who has a special respect for “education.” The speech helps to convey the sense of warmth that exists in the personal relations in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and where it is particularly difficult to keep secrets, even those that one would like to keep in the dark.

The use of Maupassant in the story becomes an effective device in helping to organize the story and in presenting characterization and theme. First, the friends disagree about Maupassant—his coarseness and commonplaceness—at the story’s beginning. Then, the last two pages conclude the discussion that started probably thirty years before. Both know that Maupassant would end Terry’s story with Terry’s death, and the narrator says that “life was pretty nearly through with Terry Coughlan” in the concluding sentence. In addition to organizing the story, the Maupassant material is appropriate to Terry because Terry’s decay is typical of Maupassant’s subject matter. It is moreover only in witnessing the hardships of life, the way life often does not follow one’s plans or wishes, that Terry comes to appreciate Maupassant as a writer. Maupassant, according to Terry, may not deal with the noble, but then life itself often presents much that is ignoble.