Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the main ideas in “Legal Aid” is that mature, reasonable adults can correct the serious errors that other adults commit out of silliness, prejudice, or plain stubbornness. As Frank O’Connor often does in his stories, he shows that social prejudice can cause serious personal problems for everyone, especially, in this case, for the young. Delia Carty and Tom Flynn would have married happily early in the story except for the prejudice his father Ned has against allowing Tom to marry beneath his station in life. Fortunately, the social prejudice that prevents the marriage is overcome by the cleverness of the two lawyers.

A second theme closely accompanying the first is that people need to understand others—particularly the young—and treat them with the kindness they would like shown to themselves. Certainly Roarer Cooper realizes that Delia Carty is a nice young girl, not much different from his own daughters. Delia may have been led astray, but her truthfulness and her obvious love for Tom persuade Cooper that he should work on her behalf. This, then, is one of O’Connor’s optimistic stories, for in it he shows that human experience and humanity can lead responsible people to do the right thing and to help others who are in need.