Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The opening sequence in The Pornographer features a visit by the narrator’s uncle to Dublin to see his cancer-stricken sister, and one small moment in it initiates one of the novel’s most significant motifs. Uncle and nephew lunch in a pub in which the television set is tuned to the day’s horse-racing. This banality introduces the theme of luck and chance, its prevalence in everyday affairs and the influence it plays in the shaping of individual destinies. The role this theme plays in Josephine’s pregnancy will be obvious, but just in case it should escape the reader, Josephine is required by the author to repeat tiresomely and with understandable bitterness how she picked a winner in her sexual partner.

McGahern’s point is more subtle than the mere noting of luck’s part in the business of living. One the one hand, there is an emphasis on how inescapable one’s luck is. Initiating the theme with reference to trained horses has a satiric tang to it, since it contains a subtext of contradictions dealing with instinct and discipline which have a direct bearing on the Josephine plot and the narrator’s handling of it. The behavior of the racing horses, however, is essentially outside the control of those with the greatest investment in that behavior. Those who trust to luck can do nothing more than hope vaguely, though no doubt passionately, that things will go their way. Josephine’s flying in the face of the narrator’s rejection belongs in this group.

On the other hand, the narrator believes that he can outface his luck, that he can, in effect, deny the reality resulting from the chance impregnation of his mistress. Rather than accept his fate, he desires to believe that he does not have one. This...

(The entire section is 715 words.)