The Drunkard by Frank O’Connor

In The Drunkard by Frank O’Connor we have the theme of apprehension, fear, pride, gossip, control, temptation, curiosity, helplessness, alcoholism and trust. Taken from his Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young boy called Larry Delaney and after reading the story the reader realises that O’Connor may be exploring the theme of apprehension and fear. Larry’s mother is concerned if not alarmed that her husband intends to go to Mr. Dooley’s funeral. If anything she is apprehensive due to the fact that she knows that her husband is an alcoholic and that the events of the funeral may trigger another episode of drinking. Though the family don’t need the money (half day’s pay) that will be lost if Larry’s father does go to the funeral she remains somewhat in fear. Fully aware of the consequences that will happen should Larry’s father begin drinking again. If anything Mrs Delaney knows that rather than her husband having control over his drinking it is the other way around and alcohol controls him. Though he has periods of sobriety he is affected by periods in whereby he considers himself to be not only able to drink but also of being better than other people. There is a sense of false pride or an inability for Larry’s father to accept that he may be somewhat flawed (due to his alcoholism). If anything Larry’s father at stages of the story considers himself to be better than others and it is on these occasions that he tends to return to alcohol.

Mr Dooley’s funeral itself may also be important as Larry’s father appears to be associating the high attendance of dignitaries at the funeral as a marker to the significance of Mr. Dooley’s to others. Which in turn may suggest that Larry’s father (as part of the funeral procession) also considers himself to be important. It may also be significant that Larry’s father considered Mr. Dooley to be his best friend. However the reality may have been that they were no more than two neighbours who liked to keep abreast of what was happening in the area. Though some critics might suggest that rather than being concerned about what was happening in the area Larry’s father was more concerned about gossip. It is possible that he liked to be the first to know about something which he could then relay to others. If anything Larry’s father may feel that by knowing something that others don’t know his own ego is inflated. Giving him a sense again that he is better than others. Which would further play on the theme of pride or false pride.

When Larry does take the drink in the public house there is also a sense that he has been tempted. That he is curious as to what alcohol might taste like. However the initial euphoria that comes with alcohol does not last long for Larry. This may be important as O’Connor, through Larry having taken a drink, may be suggesting that alcohol though it may be considered to be an instrument of pleasure also has its downsides. Which for Larry are very public. Something that is noticeable when he struggles to make his way home with his father and Peter Crowley. If anything Larry becomes an embarrassment to his father which in many ways is ironic considering Mr Delaney’s history with alcohol and his own abilities to embarrass his family when he is drunk. Just as Larry stumbles through the streets on his way home the reader is aware that Mr Delaney himself has also had difficultly, because of his intake of alcohol, making his way home.  If anything Larry is mirroring his father.

The end of the story is also interesting as O’Connor may be exploring the theme of helplessness. When Mrs Delaney is lying beside Larry and calling him her ‘guardian angel’, there is a sense that she knows that she is reliant on outside influences (God) to help her when it comes to her husband’s drinking. She knows that she herself is helpless and can do nothing to stop him from drinking. She too is as powerless as Mr Delaney is when it comes to his drinking. Which may be the point that O’Connor is trying to make. Though alcohol is prevalent and accepted in society O’Connor may be suggesting that it should be treated with caution. Something that Larry now knows after drinking for the first time. Rather than alcohol having a positive effect on the individual O’Connor may be implying that if not taken in moderation not only will alcohol change an individual (Mr Delaney) but it will have a negative effect on an entire family too. Which seems to be the case for the Delaney’s. With Mrs Delaney struggling in life due to her husband’s drinking. At no stage in the story is there a sense that Mrs Delaney can trust her husband when it comes to his drinking.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Drunkard by Frank O'Connor." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 24 Sep. 2016. Web.


  • I’ve only read a few Frank O’Connor stories so far, including this one and “Legal Aid,” and I like how sharply he explores the characters and with what wry, bitter humor he presents them. I agree that at the end the father sees himself mirrored in the son; maybe it’s the only way for him to see himself clearly.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Hila. I’ve yet to read ‘Legal Aid’ but I do intend to read some more of O’Connor’s stories. He really does have a remarkable ability to add humour to a story. Even if the message in the story may be of a serious nature.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Hila. I’ve yet to read ‘Legal Aid’ but I do intend to read some more of O’Connor’s stories. He really does have a remarkable ability to add humour to a story. Even if the message in the story may be of a serious nature.

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