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Last Updated on August 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 589

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"The Will" is often cited as an exemplary work of Irish literature. Beyond the cultural hallmarks that pepper the story, there is much to analyze from a literary perspective.

The ways that color is used symbolically in the story lends itself to analyzing the meaning of the text as a whole. One such example is the mention of the blue feathers that Lally wore the day she left her family to marry a man her mother disproved of. According to sister Kate, shortly before their mother's passing, she was overheard mumbling about blue feathers. Upon hearing this, Lally vividly recalls her mother staring at the blue feathers (which Lally had added to her hat) during their last conversation, thinking her mother loathed them even more than she loathed Lally's defiance.

Together, these details suggest that the feathers represent a glaring departure from the class standing Lally's family belongs to (which she is deliberately rejecting). There is a clear link between the family's disgust with Lally's lower socioeconomic status, her undesirable marriage, and her mother's disgust with the blue feathers.

However, the feathers symbolize something entirely different for Lally. She had added them to a shabby cap on her wedding day because she didn't have anything new to wear. For her, the feathers represented hope and happiness. Later in the story, Lally remarks that she would now look ridiculous wearing feathers at this point in her life—more than twenty years later. She has faced—and will continue to face—many struggles because of her decisions and the family turmoil they inspired; thus, Lally perhaps has lost the ability to look at her life with the same optimism as she did in her youth. In this way, one could interpret the feathers as a symbol of the naive hope of youth.

This blue motif continues when Lally's sisters ask her about the color of the coat she wore to their mother's burial. Lally remarks that she doesn't own anything black, so she borrowed a dark navy blue coat from a neighbor in Dublin, who suggested no one would notice it was not black. Her sisters are disgusted that Lally's coat is not black and are even more outraged that the offensive garment does not belong to Lally. Once again, the coat and its inaccurate color speak to Lally's lower class status and her inability to meet the material demands of her family. In addition, one could argue that Lally's coat indicates her profound sadness—which isn't revealed until later in the story.

In literature, blue often indicates melancholy, sorrow, or regret. With this in mind, one could re-examine the color blue as indicative of Lally's mental state; her frantic prayers at the end of the story reflect her anguish and worry.

Religious references also abound in the text. Lavin herself was Irish Catholic, the doctrines of which feature heavily in the story. Lally's first instinct when she feels existential dread is to visit the local priest—even though she hasn't seen him in decades. Her primary coping mechanism is her faith, as indicated by her immediate turn to prayer in times of crisis and her plans to pay for Masses in honor of her deceased mother.

These religious elements are included in the text to show that Lally—despite the condescension of her family—is a person of strong moral convictions and a forgiving heart. While her family has always been concerned with keeping up appearances, Lally has forsaken this and has instead attempted to independently cultivate her moral character.


Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

One important technique in the story is the shift of point of view. In the first part of the story the point of view is third-person limited. The narrator describes the characters or the place but refuses to enter the thoughts of those characters. When Lally leaves the house, however, the narrator enters the mind of Lally and records her thoughts. The narration mirrors the change from a social scene to a personal and reflective one. It is essential that the reader know Lally’s thoughts in the second part of the story in order to evaluate her actions in the first part, and only a change in the type of narration can accomplish this.

One element of style needs to be mentioned: the use of imagery at the end of the story. The images of darkness and those of red (“the dark train,” “through the darkness,” “red sparks,” and “burning sparks”) fill Lally’s mind and remind her of the mother’s suffering in Purgatory and make her feel confused and feverish, and these feelings impel her to take some action to relieve her mother’s suffering. The penultimate paragraph begins with Lally feeling some “peace,” but that peace is driven out by the images.