(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mary Lavin’s “The Will” is set in rural Ireland; in such a rural locale, the people tend to be excessively concerned about respectability and to be afflicted with a meanness of spirit. The story begins soon after the mother’s will has been read by a solicitor. The four children then discuss the consequences of the mother’s cutting Lally out of the will. What follows is a series of contrasts, and some conflicts: between the children who remained in the rural Irish town—Kate, Matthew, and Nonny—and Lally, who left home at an early age for the city and marriage.

The first contrast is between the practical, and socially respectable, desire of the other children to provide Lally with some of the money taken away from her by the will and Lally’s steadfast refusal to violate her mother’s wishes. Kate takes the lead and prods Matthew to suggest that each of them will contribute to Lally a part of the money they received. Their concern seems, for the most part, to be for what people will say rather than for their sister. Matthew says, “We won’t let it be said by anyone that we’d see you in want, Lally.” Lally, however, resists their attempt to circumvent their mother’s will; she believes that such a plan would be in violation of her mother’s wishes and that, if her mother did not wish her to have the money, she should not have it. Lally has a sense of fairness and justice that contrasts with the others’ attempt to preserve respectability.

Such a contrast can also be seen in her reaction to the next proposal by Matthew. Matthew offers to pool their resources and purchase a hotel in the city for Lally to run. In his eyes, a hotel would be more respectable than the boardinghouse that Lally now has: “It would be in the interests of the family,” he tells Lally, “if you were to give up keeping lodgers.” Lally rejects this proposal as well. She thinks of her departed husband rather than respectability. “I’d hate to be making a lot of money and Robert gone where he couldn’t profit by it.” She is interested in fulfilling people’s desires and does not worry about what people think.

Another contrast is that Lally, although an exile from the house, is the only one to display any feeling for her mother’s death. She cries when she remembers her mother and their relationship before she left home, “but the tears upset the others, who felt no inclination to cry.” She also cries when she hears that her mother’s last words were “blue feathers”—Lally had worn those blue feathers the day she left home to go to the city. It is obvious that the mother felt much affection for Lally. She...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)