Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Frank O’Connor is regarded as one of twentieth century literature’s most unabashed and thoroughgoing realists. His concern is always with the everyday world in which people move and function, and he seeks verisimilitude in characterization, plotting, and setting. In this story, he captures brilliantly the angst that Roman Catholic children often endure when preparing for the early sacraments of penance and Communion. Almost all children, once they learn about the Ten Commandments, feel, like Jackie, that they have violated the lion’s share of them.

Despite Jackie’s extreme revulsion toward his grandmother, O’Connor renders convincingly the tensions that exist in any family. The sibling rivalry between Jackie and Nora is entirely believable, and the ways in which she lobbies members of the family to her point of view reveal the complex dynamics of family life. The devotion and uncritical love that Jackie feels for his mother is consistent with the relationships among many of O’Connor’s fictional sons and mothers. O’Connor himself adored his mother, and sympathetic maternal figures often appear in his stories. Jackie feels that his mother is his only friend and ally, and she is his protector in family squabbles. It is therefore understandable that Jackie is disturbed that she would forgo accompanying him to his confession and send Nora instead.

Jackie’s other ally in the story is the young priest in the confessional. Initially,...

(The entire section is 600 words.)