Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Seán O’Faoláin provides limited detail and description about Paddy and Molly’s lives. The only thing that he reveals about their earlier lives is that “the years had polished her hard—politics, revolution, husband in and out of prison, children reared with the help of relatives and Prisoners’ Dependents’ funds. You could see the years on her fingertips, too pink, too coarse, and in her diamond-bright eyes.” In these two sentences O’Faoláin presents an image of the many young couples who spent time apart while the husbands fought for an independent Ireland. O’Faoláin relies on their conversation and their actions to reveal the characteristics they both now possess. They are complex, contradictory, and realistic.

The author’s disappointment with the politics of Ireland and the inflexibility of the Roman Catholic Church is also subtly woven throughout the story by the actions of Paddy and Molly. Rather than explicitly discussing the rigidity of the church or the pain and suffering of Irish politics, he relies on the sophistication of the reader to understand the root of Molly’s guilt about accepting the fur coat and Paddy’s reaction to being called mean.

O’Faoláin tries to appeal to a complex mass of emotion, sensory experience, and acceptable ideas that he presumes are clear in the reader’s mind. He tries to manipulate the reader so that a little will do a lot in his or her imagination, and he assumes that the reader is able to connect and understand what he is doing. Paddy and Molly know each other about as well as two people can know each other, but Paddy does not realize that Molly needs to be told that she deserves the coat. On the other hand, Molly, herself, is not sure why she cannot accept the coat. O’Faoláin implies or suggests situations and relies on the reader’s experiences with life and human nature to understand what is not said.