Everything in This Country Must

by Colum McCann

Start Free Trial

Compare "Everything in This Country Must" and "An Act of Vengeance".

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Everything in This Country Must" by Colum McCann is a story that captures the essence of tragedy in regard to the inevitability of death in a warring Irish landscape. It jolts readers into the story in media res as a family's draft horse is caught in a swelling river during the midst of a storm. The narrator, whose name is Katie, attempts to hold the horse's head above water with a rope while her father dives under the water to try and free it. A military truck arrives, and its occupants offer their aid, but as it was a military truck that negligently killed Katie's mother and younger brother years prior, Katie's father is averse to their help.

The men help free the horse regardless, and as Katie tends to them in the comfort of her home afterwards, she finds herself attracted to one of the soldiers. However, her father is upset at their presence and reacts quite aggressively to the men's actions, triggering an argument between them all. The soldiers leave and, after sitting in a moment of mourning, Katie's father goes out to the barn and kills the draft horse that the soldiers saved.

"An Act of Vengeance" by Isabel Allende is a story that follows the current of sorrow that carries the lives of a female rape victim and her older male rapist. Dulce Rosa is the jewel of the town and is envied by many older women for her charm, grace, and disposition. Her pedestaled purity attracts the conquering nature of soldier Tadeo Céspedes, whose men barrage Rosa's house, murder and humiliate her senator father, and allow Céspedes to rape her in the silence of her room.

The moment Rosa realizes her father will die beside her, she asks him not to kill her in preservation, but to allow her to take revenge on Tadeo Céspedes. However, when her rapist comes back many years later a changed man (now fifty-five years old and called Don Tadeo), both Dulce Rosa and Tadeo realize that their tragic memories of each other have transitioned into a repressed love. They spend time together and plan to marry, but on the day of the wedding, Dulce Rosa realizes that she cannot live with her father's ghost if she proceeds with the relationship. She commits suicide in the room that Tadeo raped her in, which was, until this point, uninhabited. Tadeo despairingly realizes he will have to live out his days with nothing but the memory of "the only woman his soul could ever love."

The stories are similar in that they are both explore the inner lives of female protagonists against the background of war and family tragedy. Both protagonists find themselves attracted to the men who killed their families but are separated from them at the end through death. Both stories epitomize relationships with tragedy in a sequence of distinct, progressing symbols—in "Everything in This Country Must," the images of the military truck, the draft horse, and the rain characterize Katie's interactions with death, and in "An Act of Vengeance," the images of flowers, blood, and the organdy dress characterize Dulce Rosa's interactions with death.

These symbols depict death as an inevitable and inescapable force over civilians during times of war. In "An Act of Vengeance," the recurrence of Dulce Rosa's dress and the flowers she wears carry with them the remembrance of death—even in moments when she appears to be happy. Her death, then, was inevitable: it was always present in the nature that surrounded her home and in the essence of her femininity. The inevitability of her death lends itself to a cycle of tragedy that cannot be avoided, and one paralleled with the death of civilians during war.

In "Everything in This Country Must," the army truck foreshadows death whenever it appears, killing Katie's mother and brother, leaving her father in a vacuum of mourning, and preceding the murder of the draft horse. Its association with death means that even when the soldiers save the draft horse, they are only preventing death through more death (as in times of war). Katie's father, then, must supplant one type of death for another. The "one two three" of the rain that Katie ponders while her father mourns mimics the "one two three" of the bullets going into the draft horse. Associated with death, the rain that saturates the "small sky" is the Irish death that ceaselessly bombards the landscape in which too many lives are lost. The horse could never live, because “everything in this country must” die.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial