Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story invites readers to try to understand and to feel compassion for two very different people who happen to be brothers but whose relationship with each other is based more on habit and convention than on mutual affection.

At the center of Francis’s world is his mother, to whom he is tethered. It is she who determines the slow pace of time and the narrowness and passivity of his experience. Francis accommodates himself to this constricted space by limiting his own activity and ambition. This means that he is left without a sense of perspective about what lies beyond his small town in Tipperary. It also means that his mother’s negative spirit controls him. Although Francis thinks her sins few and insignificant, she has done such things as deliberately spoiling her daughter’s chance of marrying a man she loved and deliberately alienating her other children.

Francis’s trip to Jerusalem is a departure from his mother’s influence. However, away from her and without her approval, Francis does not thrive. He is uneasy and unhappy. In the midst of activity and noise but disconnected from what gives meaning to his life, he experiences discomfort, emptiness, and a sense of unreality. He becomes aware that he prefers the Holy Land of his imagination to the real Jerusalem and Bethlehem and that he longs for the time when, safely with his mother, he will be able to savor his own religiosity without the distractions and incongruities of...

(The entire section is 409 words.)