Is this title seriously meant? What are the sources of humor in this story?  Does the humor arise from observation of life or from distortion of life? What elements of the story seem to you...

Is this title seriously meant? What are the sources of humor in this story?

 Does the humor arise from observation of life or from distortion of life? What elements of the story seem to you funniest?

Expert Answers
laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Drunkard by Frank O'Connor is a story that focuses on alcoholism and its effects on a family, so the title is meant seriously. The humor in the story arises from the interactions between the characters and is gleaned more from observation than distortion. The son's childish understanding and retelling of things is part of what makes the story so amusing. 

At one point, the son decides to try beer. O'Connor writes:

I was still thirsty. I found if I stood on tiptoe I could just reach Father’s glass, and the idea occurred to me that it would be interesting to know what the contents were like. He had his back to it and wouldn’t notice. I took down the glass and sipped cautiously. It was a terrible disappointment. I was astonished that he could even drink such stuff. It looked as if he had never tried lemonade.

 Clearly, the father has tried lemonade and as an adult prefers beer and its effects. The son not understanding that -- believing his father would prefer lemonade -- is very humorous. Larry's father being unaware that he's getting drunk is also amusing, because the reader can see the situation getting out of control while the adult in the situation is unaware.

The funniest part of the story is the juxtaposition between the father and the son when the son gets drunk on the father's beer. Larry is surly, argumentative, and reluctant to go home. He's the mirror of his father, who creates problems for their family with his drunken behavior. However Larry's decision to drink actually solves a problem for his mother because it keeps his father from drinking -- ensuring that he goes to work the next day. 

O'Connor reflects the behavior of irresponsible drunks in the character of Larry when he gets drunk on his father's beer and his father is forced to abandon the bar to bring him home. The observation of life through Larry's eyes and later his behavior make the story quite amusing. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Illustrative of an Irish love of irony, the title is humorous, for "the drunkard" ironically refers to the boy, not the father who is the real drunkard. 

Of course, the most significant irony of the story is that it takes the son's drunkenness and the embarrassment his father suffers on the walk home—as he is "made a show for the whole road" by the scolding women—to convince the man to stop his drinking. It is ironic, too, that the mother has sent the son along to "act as a brake" on his father. That is, Larry is sent in hopes of preventing the father from going to the pub or at least staying too long and getting drunk. However, it is Larry who becomes drunk and must be brought home by his father. 

In addition to the quaintness and lilt of the vernacular and the propensity for exaggeration that Irish literature often possesses, much of the story's humor derives from the ironic twist of the situation. The son imitates the father by singing the father's favorite song and replicating his sense of scolding, such as when Larry says,

“Now,” I said severely, “can’t you leave me alone? I can walk all right. 'Tis only my head. All I want is a rest”

It is amusing, also, that the next day the mother calls her son his father's guardian angel, telling him that "It was God did it you were there" in reference to when Larry acted simply as a naturally curious boy by drinking his father's pint with no idea about the consequences of his imbibing so much alcohol.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title is a serious reference to both the father and the son. The father has always been "the drunkard", and his alcoholism has caused both the mother and the son pain. To pay for his alcohol, the father has pawned items from the house. This is why the wife and son are so concerned when the father decided to go to the funeral, knowing that he will also go to the bar with his friends afterwards.

The humor in the story stems from the son's behavior when he's drunk. He is a mirror image of his dad when his dad is drinking. The father must take his son home before he can get drunk, and this is why the mother calls the son his father's "guardian angel".

Read the study guide:
The Drunkard

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