Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A major theme of “A Wet Day” is the contrast between the priest’s official role and his moral nature. Should the priest be respected because of his clerical position, or should he be judged as others are? Eventually the story reveals that Father Gogarty lacks precisely those qualities of caring that a priest should have. Possessing no pastoral qualities, he is concerned only with selfishly preserving his own health. This judgment is rendered not in words but in the rejection of lettuce by the aunt at the end of the story. Earlier she honors Father Gogarty because of his office; at the end she sees him merely as a man—and a deficient one.

Another way the story conveys its meaning is through imagery. It is filled with images and references to wetness, sodden plants, and dripping skies. The aunt and her niece live in harmony with this wet environment. For example, the aunt keeps a dripping fuchsia bush for its beauty on the rare sunny day that comes. In contrast, Father Gogarty thinks the bush should be cut back or eliminated because he thinks it increases the danger of catching cold. He is more worried about catching an infection and disease than about caring for others.

A conflict that begins the story is between the traditional aunt with settled views and the more modern, educated niece. The young niece has no respect for institutions, especially the Roman Catholic clergy that is so important in Ireland. By the end of the story, however, she forgets about the revelation of Father Gogarty’s character, which now has less significance for her. The aunt changes her own view more dramatically. She is clearly upset at Father Gogarty’s showing himself to be a poor shepherd to his flock. As a result of this change, the aunt reconciles with her niece, and they agree on how to judge a person.

Another important conflict is between the “duty” that the priest feels to protect and care for himself and the necessity of being concerned with and caring for others. In obeying one dictate, he ignores the other, giving his own health and comfort priority over the urgent needs of the sick young man. The priest even goes so far as to lie about not having a thermometer in his house.