Guests of the Nation

by Frank O'Connor

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Belcher is a big Englishman who is held prisoner by Irish rebels. He is a polite, quiet fellow, who helps the old woman do her chores. Faced with his execution, Belcher reveals more about himself in a few minutes than he had in all the weeks spent with his captors. Unlike Hawkins, he manages to maintain his dignity and composure.

Bonaparte is the narrator of the tale. His relationship with his prisoners, Hawkins and Belcher, grows from captor-captive into actual friendship. When given the news that Hawkins and Belcher are to be executed, Bonaparte is dismayed at the role he is expected to play. The executions disturb him deeply; at the end of the story he comments that ‘‘anything that happened to me afterward, I never felt the same about again.’’

Jeremiah Donovan
Jeremiah Donovan is the officer in charge of the group of Irish rebels. Unlike Bonaparte and Noble, he does not regard the English prisoners as friendly acquaintances. He delivers the news of the impending executions to Bonaparte and seems surprised at his reaction, stating, ‘‘What else did you think we were keeping them for?’’ Donovan fires the gun at the execution.

Feeney is an intelligence officer who brings the news that the Englishmen are to be executed. He assists in the executions and leaves as soon as the men are buried. His name derives from the Feinian Society, an underground organization that fought against the British for Irish independence.

Hawkins is the second English prisoner. He is smaller and more talkative than Belcher, often engaging Noble in religious and political debates. When told that he is to be executed, Hawkins reacts with utter disbelief. He considers his captors to be his ‘‘pals,’’ and argues that, if the situation were reversed, he would never shoot them.

Noble is one of the Irish rebels. He likes to argue politics and theology with Hawkins. When told of the plan to bring Hawkins and Belcher along quietly by telling them that they are ‘‘being shifted again,’’ Noble refuses to take part in the lie, instead going ahead to dig the graves. After the executions, he prays with the old lady, falling to his knees by the fireplace.

The Old Woman
The old woman owns the cottage where the action takes place, tending the house and feeding the men. Though Bonaparte notes that she has a sharp tongue and tends to be cranky, she grows fond of Belcher due to his efforts to help her with the household chores. She falls to her knees in the doorway and prays after the executions.

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