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Often times in literature, authors will illustrate the use and effects of alcohol to reflect the experiences that they had encountered within their own lives. Alcohol usually creates a distortion of reality and in some cases self-destructive behavior. Although alcohol can be problematic, it is also used in literature for entertainment purposes and makes things happen. In “The Swimmer“ by John Cheever and “The Drunkard” by Frank O’Connor, alcohol influences the characters and provokes problems within their lives involving relationships with others around them.
In both stories, the main characters struggle with excessive drinking, driving their family members desperate, and essentially, forcing them away. Withal, “The Swimmer” exerts a more sophisticated approach to exposing truths about human nature through alcohol, whereas “The Drunkard” is solely for entertainment and amusement, thus signifying that “The Swimmer” is the more superior story.
The short story “The Drunkard” by Frank O’Connor is simply an entertaining piece filled with situational irony for the purpose of amusement.
Told in a first-person narrative by a boy named Larry, the story is a recollection of an event in his past. Larry Delaney is the protagonist, describing an unforgettable, humorous event that happened at a funeral he and his father had attended. While trying to prevent his father from drinking too much at a funeral, Larry gets drunk in the process and reverses roles with his dad while intoxicated. Larry is a flat character because of the fact that he is uncomplicated and does not change throughout the story.
It can be inferred that he is very young in this particular memory because he uses undeveloped words such as, “Dadda, can’t we go home now?” (O’Connor). Mick Delaney, Larry’s father, is the antagonist of the story. His flaw is alcohol, which is affirmed by Larry on page 340 where he notes that alcohol is his father’s great weakness. Prompting pride and authority over those around him, the dangers that alcohol brought upon Mick caused discomfort upon his wife and son at the beginning of the story without him realizing. But as it progresses, we can see that after Mick encounters his accidentally drunk son reflecting his own embarrassing, intoxicated customs, he gains insight that compels him to swear off drinking on page 346. This signifies that Mick Delaney is a dynamic character because he undergoes a change in perspective within the story, at least for the time being.
Through a humorous yet serious tone, O’Connor develops an ironic story in which a young son begins to imitate immature behaviors that of his father, while in an attempt to stop them. “The Drunkard” exhibits a surplus of irony to uphold a comical, intriguing plot. Situational irony is present on page 343 when the father is not paying attention to Larry, and he drinks the father’s beer. This is ironic in the fact that Larry was sent to accompany his father at the funeral for the purpose of restraining his drinking, and ultimately succeeds, but gets drunk himself. It was unpredictable and surprising that the young boy would get drunk, and that Larry, instead of the father, would be acting like a foolish, cliched drunk. The irony continues as Larry is thanked by his mother when he gets home on page 347 for being his “guardian angel.” (O’Connor). Without knowing, by embarrassing his father and providing a demonstration of the fathers own drunken habits, Larry changes his father’s demeanor and helps him see his problem from a perspective other than his own and recognizes he needs to change. Instead of being scolded by his mother as one may think, instead he is praised. The irony in “The Drunkard” helps depict the theme of how parents heavily influence the choices and mannerisms of their children. Because of Larry’s youth and curiosity, he mimicked his father’s derogatory behaviors while intoxicated, essentially implying how parents should set a good example for their children. The song “The Boys of Wexford” sung by drunk Larry and his father, help symbolize Larry’s heroic efforts in forswearing his father from drinking by mirroring how he speaks and acts while drunk. Alcohol is also used to symbolize temptation, for both the father’s obsession and curious Larry, and a device that initiates action within the story.
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