Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

O’Faoláin uses the fur coat as a symbol, a tool to portray many subtleties, while apparently discussing only one subject. He looks at the differences between the sexes, he looks at politics and religion, but what he actually focuses on is human nature. He believes that human nature is “so various, so complex, so contradictory, so subtle, so amusing and so unexpected.” The symbol represents more than Paddy’s being an inconsiderate male or Molly’s being an undeserving female. For Paddy, the fur coat symbolizes his achievement: He now can give his wife luxuries. For Molly, the coat symbolizes her expectations from life: She is a lady who deserves respectable things. The problem with their conversations is that Molly never actually says what she really means, and Paddy never actually listens to what she tries to say. Paddy continuously tells Molly to buy the coat, never realizing that she is constantly feeling the need to defend her request. Molly never actually tells Paddy that she deserves the coat but tries to get him to reach that conclusion on his own.

O’Faoláin introduces Irish politics without saying what that means to Paddy, who was jailed, and Molly, who was alone raising the children. He introduces religion without explaining what that means to Paddy, who wants Molly to parade down Grafton Street in front of the “painted jades” who never lifted a hand for God or man or Ireland. He also depicts Molly as not being able to accept luxury without guilt or an explanation. “The Fur Coat” is uniquely Irish, filled with O’Faoláin’s perception of the Irish temperament.