The Fur Coat by Sean O’Faolain
In The Fur Coat by Sean O’Faolain we have the theme of desire, aspiration, appearance, change and identity. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that O’Faolain may be exploring the theme of desire. Molly strongly wants to get the fur coat. She believes that she will be properly dressed should she own a fur coat. However her basic instincts stop her from getting the coat. This may be important as O’Faolain may be using the fur coat as symbolism for success and Molly may feel as though she does not really deserve the fur coat. The success that the family has achieved is more to do with her husband’s appointment as Parliamentary Secretary than it is to do with anything that Molly has done. Molly’s life is simple. She looks after her children, is a full time housewife and rather than buying new clothes for her children mends their clothes. Which could also be important. A fur coat as Molly is fully aware is an expensive purchase. The money could be used for clothes for the children rather than having Molly spend it on herself. If anything Molly may feel swept away or overwhelmed by her husband’s appointment. Imagining herself to be able to live a life she has never lived before.
O’Faolain also appears to be exploring the theme of appearance and just how important appearance is to Molly. Something that is noticeable when Molly makes reference to the wives of both DeValera and General Mulcahy. She is likening herself to these women as though she too has the same importance due to her husband’s new appointment. Maguire’s appointment means that Molly will mix in new circles and she wants to look good and to be an equal to others. Something she does not feel she is at the moment. At the moment Molly sees herself as no more than an ordinary housewife unlike the wives of DeValera and General Mulcahy. If anything there is a sense that Molly may feel ashamed of who she is and believes that a fur coat or even a set of new dresses will change her for the better. That Molly is just as good as the wives of DeValera and General Mulcahy.
It is also noticeable that Molly becomes preoccupied with getting a fur coat, listing the various types of coats to Maguire along with the cost of each coat. This preoccupation is important as it suggests that Molly is dissatisfied with her life and that she wishes for something else. However it is also noticeable that Molly at times is being practical when it comes to the cost of a coat. This may be important as it suggests that Molly can still understand the value of money. Something that has possibly been triggered by her circumstances (Maguire in prison). If anything Molly is unprepared for the new circle that she will be mixing in and may have low self-esteem. Believing that how she appears (the clothes she wears) is more important than the character she is. It is also possible that Molly is placing others on a pedestal that they may not necessarily deserve. The wives of DeValera and General Mulcahy’s being an example.
The end of the story is also interesting as Molly comes full circle and accepts that she does not want (or need) a fur coat. Despite Maguire providing her with the money Molly has second thoughts. Though Molly tells Maguire she doesn’t know why she has changed her mind it is possible that Molly has realised that she is who she is. That she does not need to compete with the wives of DeValera or General Mulcahy. That she does not need to change who she is. It might also be a case that Molly realises that she may have been selfish, thinking only of herself and not her family. It is also possible that Molly, having spent so many years struggling, is defeated or beaten and no longer has the energy required to be something that she knows she really isn’t. Molly has lived her life as part of a political struggle and may not be able to forget this. For that reason she probably is aware that the fur coat is more for appearance than practicality. Yet Molly is unable as previously mentioned to forget who she is. Regardless of the change in the political landscape of Ireland and Maguire’s new appointment Molly can remember what it is like to struggle. Something that is also noticeable by the fact that she spent the evening mending her children’s clothes. It may also be possible that Molly has realised that a fur coat symbolises the spoils of war. A war that cost so many lives and resulted in Maguire’s imprisonment. Molly may no longer feel comfortable with the idea of wearing a fur coat when others have sacrificed so much for her freedom. The reader sensing at the end of the story that Molly has not forgotten her true identity. The wife of a former political prisoner and the mother of children in a fledgling State (Ireland).