Pathos is the quality or power of evoking (bringing out) pity, compassion, sympathy, tenderness, and/or sorrow. Frank O'Connor has a light touch in telling about Larry's misadventures in helping his father stay away from becoming drunk, which is heightened by his use of the charming Irish vernacular: "Begor, I was not grand!" But the real tale of The Drunkard is how one man's inability to stay sober brought hardship, betrayal and sorrow upon his wife and son.
This is the core source of the story's pathos. Added to this is the pathos of the downfall (if only for a day) of Mick's son while trying to guard Mick from a downfall of his own. The evocation of pity, sorrow and compassion in the reader in the presence of a lonesome kitchen without a clock, Mick's horrible behavior, Larry's physical illness from drinking, and Larry's painfully accurate imitation of his drunken father are the footprints of pathos in The Drunkard.
The story's pathos arises from the author's skillful depiction of the emotional suffering families of alcoholics must endure.
The story is told from the viewpoint of the adult Larry Delaney. Larry recalls how his father (Mick Delaney) had struggled with alcoholism during his childhood years. As a rule, Mick Delaney was a warm and devoted family man:
He could keep steady for months, even for years, at a stretch, and while he did he was as good as gold. He was first up in the morning and brought the mother a cup of tea in bed, stayed at home in the evenings and read the paper...
However, Mick often became tempted just at the point when he believed he had seen the last of his drunken binges. One of the strongest catalysts that often precipitated Mick's indulgence was funerals. Mick enjoyed attending funerals, and he further enjoyed discoursing about funerals while imbibing alcohol at the local pub.
Because of Mick's irresponsible behavior, his wife often had to take on extra shifts and to sometimes pawn off family belongings in a bid to stave off financial calamity. She suffered great emotional distress and anxiety because of her husband's actions. Additionally, Larry was always witness to his mother's suffering, and he was used as a "brake" to thwart his father's indulgence when all else failed.
During one particularly embarrassing incident, Larry became horribly drunk after imbibing his father's pint of beer at a bar. The young boy's intoxicated behavior provided grist for the gossip mill, and Mick was humiliated before the whole neighborhood. In the meantime, Larry suffered a terrible hangover, all because he wanted to understand the rationale behind his father's alcohol addiction.
However, there was a silver lining to this unfortunate episode. Although Mick might not have seen fit to give up his alcoholic tendencies altogether, Larry's suffering sobered him up greatly. By all indications, the pathos of the story arises from the emotional cost of alcoholism.