Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In an anthology of short stories that he edited, Seán O’Faoláin describes one of the most intense, strange, and painful pleasures of good fiction, an experience that he calls “Moral Shock”: “the excitement and challenge of being brought face to face with some way of life, apparently coherent, seemingly practical, yet disturbingly different from our own.”

The central incident in this story may not be strange to a Christian audience, but what may perhaps disturb the common reader and trigger “moral shock” is the idea that the sense of guilt associated with maturity can materialize only in a discourse polarized around the categories of good and evil. The text itself is polarized between the world of childhood with its make-believe creatures (such as the Robin in the Cow’s Ear) and the domain of religion.

Except for tidbits about his son’s prankish temper and fits, his calling his father “A Pig” (the capitalization hints at the totemic stature of the father), the narrative elaborates on the occasion when the narrator was “primed” for his act: The “dim, wintry afternoon” inside the “old, dark, windy church” is described in full, including such seemingly insignificant details as “the heels of the penitents stuck out when they knelt to the grille.” The connotative texture combines an abundant use of both adjectives and the evocation of a self-conscious, ascetic discipline: “The priests dressed in the usual black Augustinian garment with a cowl and a leather...

(The entire section is 621 words.)