W. O. Mitchell Martin Knelman - Essay

Martin Knelman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Daddy Sherry [is] the hero of W. O. Mitchell's new play The Kite, based on his 1962 novel. Daddy is reputed to be the oldest human being in the world. As his birthday approaches, the media invade his home town in the foothills of Alberta. Daddy Sherry sits on the front porch of his great-great-granddaughter's house, taking it all in but refusing to play the game. He won't conform to the world's idea of how a distinguished ancient should behave. His rambling and bickering infuriate his family, and he embarrasses everyone by refusing to make nice for the TV cameras…. (p. 73)

Much to the consternation of those who hope to capitalize on his longevity, Daddy Sherry announces to the world that he's tired of living, and sets a date for his own death. "Dyin' ain't hard to do, you know," he explains. "All sorts of folks do it without no practice ner no talent an' most of'em gets it right the first time."…

Daddy Sherry is outrageous in a way that's meant to be ingratiating and lovable. Mitchell has always been flamboyant about waving the dung on his boots in his public's face, and Daddy Sherry is a champion of that tradition. He enjoys saying and doing exactly what must not be said or done. But Mitchell is careful to draw the line; he never risks having Daddy offend the kind of people who go to the theatre. Like Mitchell himself, Daddy is a raspy-voiced old character who loves attention and likes to get a rise out of people. (p. 74)

Martin Knelman, "Old Hams" (copyright © 1981 by Saturday Night; reprinted by permission of the author), in Saturday Night, Vol. 96, No. 9, October, 1981, pp. 73-4.