Themes and Meanings
There are several themes running through this story, the most important being the nature of human greed. In the first part of the narrative, there is an almost direct parallel with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, especially in the manner in which Colm is tempted from his Garden of Eden by the idea of owning that which he is not allowed to possess. Instead of an apple, Colm’s obsession revolves around the two beasts.
His banishment from Eden is far more spiritual than physical, however, because, instead of leaving behind a garden of plenty, he is forced to give up a frame of mind that allows him satisfaction with all that he possesses. After he purchases the two beasts, though, nothing is good enough for him. He wants more and more and more—the vicious upward spiral of greed.
The fact that Andy Gorum ostracizes Colm and his family to the point that they decide to leave the community is trivial, because Colm has already made his decision to leave (spiritually, at least) by owning the two calves. Though Gorum prophesies that the Derranes will have their downfall, this does not happen in the latter half of the story. Indeed, Colm thrives to an extent that the community has never before seen. He becomes a hero.
By making Colm successful, O’Flaherty departs from the tale of Adam and Eve. No God of wrath, as Gorum would like to see, has made Colm tremble in fear for his transgression of the “traditional laws.” No lightning bolts have come from the heavens; no diseases have killed his calves; no deaths have taken place in his family. Nothing unfortunate has happened to Colm.
In the end, however, greed has taken its toll on Colm. Whereas once he was hardworking yet amenable, he is now cold and calculating, obsessed with the idea of “rising in the world.” To O’Flaherty, this is Colm’s true fall from Eden—the notion that he will never escape his own greed, but that it will imprison him forever, continuously taunting and beckoning, so that in the end, he will have nothing but a restless and ruthless mind, unable to appreciate what he has, always wanting more.