Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the most important components of technique in “Guests of the Nation” is Frank O’Connor’s masterful use of irony. An early instance of irony, apart from the story’s title and the repetition of the word “chum” (underlining the failure of friendship in the plot), is the reference to the Irish dances that Belcher and Hawkins have learned, whose titles (“The Walls of Limerick,” “The Siege of Ennis”) allude to divisiveness, violence, and war, which undercut the harmony of the social occasion. Further, the narrator’s word to describe the timbre of Belcher’s speech, “peaceable,” ironically contrasts with the reason the British soldiers are kept captive, as well as their fate.

Indeed, ironies run throughout the story: The two soldiers executed are among the most congenial to the country and its culture; the religious doubter Hawkins is the first to discover the truths about the afterlife (by being the first killed); Belcher is so considerate of his executioners that just before he is shot he asks their forgiveness for his sudden outpouring of talk, explains his thoughtful wish to speed things up because he knows the delay is painful to them, and finally absolves them all with consoling words. Finally Belcher’s blindfold, made by knotting his handkerchief with Bonaparte’s, ironically symbolizes the union that should have prevented Belcher’s pitiful death, while it is also connected to the story’s motif of blindness—to human community and to the twists of fate, summarized in the repeated key word “unforeseen.”

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Michael Collins Published by Gale Cengage

Irish Rebellion
The history of Ireland is one of domination by the British and of conflict between Protestants and Catholics. During the nineteenth century efforts were made to reduce the power of the British over the island. These efforts spawned a revolutionary movement that sought full separation from Britain. The potato famine and other crop failures added to the urgency of these rebellions. The Fenian Movement (represented in part in the story by Feeney) was a secret society determined to wreak havoc on English interests in Ireland and thereby drive them out of the country.

These movements came to the fore at the end of World War I. Despite several political acts by the English Parliament that tried to establish home rule for the Irish, the Irish Rebellion began in full force. After many of the local police quit in protest against the British, new recruits were brought into the country, called the Black and Tans. These militias were known for their brutality and ruthlessness. This is the setting for the story. After several years of ‘‘The Troubles,’’ the British representative Winston Churchill threatened an all-out war to subdue the Irish. Michael Collins agreed to a division of the country and independence for the south of Ireland. The Irish Free State was established in 1922. The Irish felt that Collins had sold them out in these negotiations, and he was assassinated soon...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Dialects and Writing Practices
One of the little known aspects about any writer’s approach to his or her craft is...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1916: Following the Easter uprising, in which Irish rebels seize control of the General Post Office in Dublin in an effort...

(The entire section is 119 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

E. M. Forster once said: ‘‘I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope...

(The entire section is 333 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

On May 20, 1958, a performance was given of Guests of the Nation, a drama, drawn directly from O’Connor’s story. It was adapted and...

(The entire section is 58 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Brian Friel’s play, Translations (1980), is set in nineteenth century Ireland as British troops arrive...

(The entire section is 207 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Crider, J. R. ‘‘Jupiter Pluvius in ‘Guests of the Nation’,’’ in Studies in Short Fiction,...

(The entire section is 400 words.)