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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

“Childybawn” is filled with Irish expressions and spellings that firmly root the story in rural Ireland: “Wisha, I dunno now where did I get that?” “Amn’t I his mother?” “You bloody ould rip of hell you!” Its title means “fair-haired child (“bawn” is an Irish word meaning “fair-haired”). Rural Ireland...

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“Childybawn” is filled with Irish expressions and spellings that firmly root the story in rural Ireland: “Wisha, I dunno now where did I get that?” “Amn’t I his mother?” “You bloody ould rip of hell you!” Its title means “fair-haired child (“bawn” is an Irish word meaning “fair-haired”). Rural Ireland has changed so little over the years that the story could have been set as easily in the nineteenth century as in the twentieth; the few definitive clues to the fact that it takes place in the twentieth century include references to Angela’s wearing seamed nylon stockings and slacks, and the fact that Benjy and his mother go to the movies.

“Childybawn” appeared in the 1950’s, after Seán O’Faoláin had been publishing stories for approximately thirty years. O’Faoláin has said that his stories of that time were his first attempts to look at his countrymen with a more satirical eye. Although this story succeeds in highlighting its characters’ foibles, it relies on several strained coincidences to advance the plot. In the apparently small town in which the Spillanes reside, for example, it is hard to believe that Benjy and Angela could be romantically involved for years, much less travel regularly together to the Continent, without either the bank manager or Mrs. Spillane being aware of it. The bleeding ulcer that brings on Benjy’s near-deathbed conversion, coming shortly after his mother’s curse that she would rather see him in a pool of his own blood than married to Angela, is another example of forced contrivance used to advance the plot.

It is appropriate that the two main characters are vividly and equally drawn, to the exclusion of the minor characters, because they exist and function as a couple, as Benjy points out, with no apparent self-consciousness, early in the story. By contrast, Angela’s motives for staying in the lengthy relationship are never explained; in fact, she has no dialogue other than the brazen words in the letter Mrs. Spillane finds. Again, this fits the story: Angela understands that she will never replace Mrs. Spillane in Benjy’s priorities; early in the story, the narrator recalls her saying it made Angela sick to see Benjy and his mother together; at the end, when Benjy asks her to marry him, she first suggests he marry his mother because he is so fond of her. Her perceptions are, of course, borne out by the fact that the engagement drags on for five years, until Mrs. Spillane dies.

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