In the first of the four numbered sections of “Guests of the Nation,” the main characters are introduced. Though Ireland and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) are not named explicitly, through mention of names such as Claregalway, reference to the British as foreigners, and dialectal expressions such as “divil” (devil), the implicit premise is established that two ordinary British soldiers have been abducted by the IRA and have been held on a rural farm for a period of several days or weeks. Just as the British soldiers got on well with their prior IRA captors in the Second Battalion, even attending Battalion dances, so they play cards with their present captors and are on friendly terms with them and the somewhat peevish old woman who owns the farm where they are being kept, largely because of Belcher’s considerate actions toward her.
The tempo of the plot, which takes place in only two days, quickens in the second through fourth sections. In the second section, after the description of yet another nocturnal argument about religion and capitalism between the devout Irishman Noble and his contentious, atheistic captive Hawkins, Bonaparte discovers (as does the reader) from his superior Donovan that their British prisoners are actually hostages, who soon may be shot in retaliation for the threatened execution of imprisoned IRA members. Indeed, as narrated in the third section, the next evening Donovan calls at the farm to implement the retaliation...
(The entire section is 434 words.)