Frank O'Connor

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What is the symbolic significance of war imagery in "My Oedipus Complex"?

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The war imagery in the story symbolizes the metaphorical war between Larry and his father.

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The the war imagery in Frank O’Connor’s “My Oedipus Complex,” symbolizes the metaphorical war between Larry, the story’s young narrator, and his father. The two are caught in a bitter battle over the attention of Larry’s mother. The story begins with Larry telling the reader how his father, a serviceman in World War I, will soon be returning home. The first war imagery we see relates to the various war souvenirs that Larry’s father brings home on his visits. We learn that his father has returned with “model tanks and Gurkha knives with handles made of bullet cases, and German helmets and cap badges and button sticks, and all sorts of military equipment.” While Larry is interested in his father, who seems quite magical when visiting, it is when his father returns home for good that the real battle begins.

When describing Larry and his father’s struggle, O’Connor writes, “Father and I were enemies, open and avowed. We conducted a series of skirmishes against one another, he trying to steal my time with Mother and I his.” O'Connor deftly uses war imagery, like the words “enemies” and “skirmishes,” to enhance the father/son conflict in his story. Furthermore, this usage contains a twist of irony because, during the real war, when his father was abroad fighting, Larry says he experienced the “most peaceful period” of his life. In fact, he enjoyed the accoutrements of war. He found the treasures and his father’s occasional presence in his military uniform quite interesting. However after his father’s return, which should have been a happy time for Larry, Larry finds himself at war with his dad. The tension between father and son results in a battle in the household, one which Larry, the ever-committed soldier, claims he will “never give up.” Of course, at the story’s end, Larry and his father reconcile, but O’Connor’s deft and clever use of war imagery does much to illuminate the father son struggle in “My Oedipus Complex.”

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