Frank O'Connor

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What are the key ironies used by Frank O'Connor in "First Confession"?

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“The First Confession” by Frank O’Connor humorously introduces Jackie, a seven year old boy, who serves as the narrator. The setting of the story is Ireland.  Jackie lives with his parents, his sister Nora, and his grandmother, who is Jackie’s father’s mother. The grandmother drives Jackie and his mother crazy.  She walks around bare footed and eats  off of the table with her hands.


Nora gets along with her grandmother and also delights in taunting her brother. Jackie finally throws a bread knife at her under the table.  Jackie’s grandmother, who drinks,  embarrasses him; so, he does not bring any of his friends home.  Every Friday because Nora is nice to her, the grandmother gives her a penny, but nothing to Jackie.

The time has come for Jackie’s first confession.  Mrs. Ryan prepares all of the children for the Holy Communion.  She scares the other children about these religious ceremonies.  Mrs. Ryan horrifies the children with terrible stories about them. Also, she offers money to one of the children to stick his/her finger in a candle light for a minute. 

Jackie is to go to his first confession, but his mother is unavailable to take him.  Since she is older, Nora will take him.  She, too, tells him scary stories. Nora goes first, and talks very politely to the priest.    

Jackie takes this confession seriously.  The priest listens and jokes and makes him feel better about anything that Jackie tells him.  Jackie confesses everything including wanting to kill his sister.  The priest joking tells Jackie that he has probably wanted to kill someone himself, but he does not.   

The Lord was watching over Jackie because his first priest was compassionate  and puts Jackie’s mind at ease.  He will not burn in hell.  The story ends with the sister learning that Jackie has been forgiven for his sins; in fact, he has received some candy from the priest.  

Examples of the most important irony in the story

1. Mrs. Ryan, the communion teacher, who should be endearing the children to the church and its rites, can only talk about “hell.” She states:

 ‘All eternity! Just think of that! A whole lifetime goes by and it’s nothing, even a drop in the ocean of your sufferings.’

 Really not very encouraging to the young children.

2. Mrs. Ryan, this devout woman, offers money to any child who would stick his finger and hold it in the candle flame for one minute. Thankfully, no one took the offer. 

3. Jackie describes Mrs. Ryan:

 She may have mentioned the other place [heaven], but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart.

4. Mrs. Ryan arranges for Jackie to go to confession on Saturday.  Of course, Nora, the last person he would want to go with him, has to take him.

5. Nora taunts Jackie on the way to confession. “Oh, Jackie, my heart bleeds for you.” The reader knows this is not true. She's delighted over his torment.

6. Nora sees Jackie fall off the shelf in the confessional box and comes up and hits him on the ear. This makes the priest mad. Jackie does not get in trouble, but Nora does.

7. The priest tells Jackie that he probably has wanted to kill someone before but being hanged has stopped him. This is humorous exaggeration on the priest's part.

8. Jackie has the minimal penance and was given some candy by the priest, the opposite of what he had been led to expect.

9. Nora, the good girl who taunted and hit her brother, gets more penance and no candy.

What a fun story to read with a unforgettable seven year old!

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