Morley Callaghan World Literature Analysis - Essay

Morley Callaghan World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Morley Callaghan’s international literary reputation struggles against two curious adversities. The first resulted from the revelation that he had knocked down the burly Hemingway during a boxing match at a Parisian athletic club in 1929; a great deal of hoopla was made over this unimportant feat, which should have been quickly forgotten. In addition, his credibility as a significant international writer suffered because his fiction was often set in Toronto, causing many critics to dismiss him as merely a competent regional writer. Edmund Wilson, the distinguished and influential American critic, began a 1960 essay on Callaghan by saying that he “is today perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world,” and concluded wryly that this might be so because readers wonder whether any Toronto writer could be legitimately compared to Anton Chekhov and Ivan Turgenev—as White believed Callaghan should be.

Callaghan’s fiction addresses many universal themes. Often, he uses characters who may be defined as ordinary people with dilemmas. He then dramatizes their suffering when they fail to make the “right” choices, which they often do because they lack anything resembling free will. He shows how the establishment breaks the hearts of the have-nots, the unfortunate, and the misfits in its midst. Callaghan also describes how people of goodwill must have, seize, add to, and strengthen their moral values to survive in a troubled world. Callaghan develops orderly, uncomplicated, suspenseful plots. He includes violence and muted sensuality, tangles people in permanent psychological conflict, and closes without passing judgment, leaving characters with little if any hope for happiness.

It’s Never Over presents the consequences of the execution of a combat veteran who killed a policeman under mitigating circumstances. The murderer’s sister wrecks her life, that of her brother’s best friend, and that of the friend’s girlfriend by clinging to a dead past that prevents her from having a living present or future.

No Man’s Meat focuses on a triangular relationship. The staid, childless marriage of Bert and Teresa Beddoes is shattered when their friend Jean Allen, who has left her husband, comes to visit them. After a serene sunset over a peaceful Canadian lake, from which the three take no lesson, Bert and Jean shoot craps, while Teresa watches. Jean loses a final startling bet and sleeps with Bert to pay it off; Teresa does not protest but insists with “calmness” that the two sleep together. In the morning, Jean reveals why she left her husband. She can hardly stand a man’s touch; she is a lesbian. She then departs with Teresa.

Such Is My Beloved has attracted increased attention in recent years. It’s the story of an idealistic, young priest who falls in love with the idea of saving the souls of two prostitutes in his neighborhood. Though he has the best intentions, his innocence of social reality leads to negative consequences for all concerned.

Callaghan describes weather and street scenes in a painterly way and employs cinematic techniques. The opening paragraph of Our Lady of the Snows, for example, tells how on a certain Christmas Eve “big wet [snow] flakes” fall “on an old dilapidated neighborhood,” and then zooms in on a nearby hotel and its loquacious bartender named “Gil” Gilhooley. The novel also has autobiographical overtones, since Gil had ambitions to be a writer and is trying to come to terms with his brother’s death. Callaghan’s only sibling, an older brother, died in 1946. In A Fine and Private Place, Al and Lisa discuss details of the hit-and-run death of an enigmatic friend, a writer named Eugene Shore. Callaghan makes masterful use of clipped, simple dialogue that is at once realistic and heightened. Such dialogue is also reminiscent of cinema.

Callaghan often uses simple plot structures. The Many Coloured Coat features three central characters in an unnamed city that resembles Montreal. One character perceptively admires the other two, who are contrasted. A temptation generates a crime, a public trial, a conviction, and a suicide in prison. The fortunes of the surviving pair undergo inversion—one up-then-down, the other down-then-up. A second trial permits a private reconciliation of the two survivors.

Almost never presenting his action through omniscient narrators who explain things for the reader, Callaghan has his characters, especially in short stories, learn something significant at the climax. “Day by Day,” for example, describes the consequence of a young wife’s prayer that her husband may find contentment. He comes home, observes her spiritual enlightenment, becomes suspicious, and storms out. At the end of the story, “She had such a strange feeling of guilt. White-faced and still, she tried to ask herself what it was that was slowly driving them apart day by day.” In “A Sick Call,” a Catholic priest pays a requested visit to a sick former member of the church in order to provide spiritual comfort. In so doing, he bothers the woman’s gruff young husband, whose love for her the priest wistfully sees as beautifully “staunch,” though “pagan.” The story ends: “As he [the priest] began to wonder about the nature of this beauty, for some reason he felt inexpressibly sad.”

“Two Fishermen”

First published: 1934, as “Who Is My Neighbor?” (collected in Morley Callaghan’s Stories, 1959)

Type of work: Short story

A hangman comes to town on business, goes fishing with the local newspaper reporter before the execution, and confronts him afterward.

One of the two fishermen of the title is Michael Foster, a young journalist for a small-town newspaper called the Examiner who wants to work for a metropolitan paper instead. The other fisherman, K. Smith, has come to town to execute the well-liked Tom Delaney, who fought, was hurt by, and killed his wife’s molester.

The story falls into two parts. The first part takes place in the evening; Foster finds Smith, borrows a boat, and rows him out onto the lake. They share a bottle and grow “neighborly.” “Smitty” amusingly talks about his wife and children and then begins to discuss his work, “knowing he ought to be ashamed.” Next day, soon after the execution, the two meet again. Smith, now formally dressed, gives Foster two fish he caught before dawn that morning. An upset crowd approaches and pelts Smith, and a flying rock cuts Smith’s head. The inefficient sheriff intervenes and saves Smith. An irate citizen notices Foster’s fish, grabs them, and hurls them toward Smith. Smith stares at his gift, in the dust; Foster, backing away, feels “hot with shame” for “betraying Smitty.”

This story concerns injustice, friendship’s limits, disloyalty, and the sad separation of work and play. Tom should not be hanged. Foster makes and...

(The entire section is 2877 words.)