The Stoat by John McGahern

In The Stoat by John McGahern we have the theme of selfishness, fear, responsibility, rejection and honesty. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that McGahern may be exploring the theme of selfishness. The protagonist’s father on hearing that Miss McCabe has had a heart attack decides to abandon any notions he had of getting engaged to Miss McCabe. It is as though the protagonist’s father doesn’t want to care for Miss McCabe should the need arise. This may be important as it suggests that the protagonist’s father is being selfish. Thinking only of his own feelings rather than on how Miss McCabe may feel. It seems to be a case that if the focus is not on him he does not want to get engaged to or marry Miss McCabe. If anything Miss McCabe has become a liability rather than an asset to the protagonist’s father. It is also possible that the protagonist’s father fears the outcome should he end up marrying Miss McCabe. He has already buried one wife and may not wish to have to bury a second. Miss McCabe is no longer of any use to the protagonist’s father and as mentioned she has become a liability. Where previously the protagonist’s father had been happy to get engaged to Miss McCabe this is no longer the case. Driven by his own sense of importance the protagonist’s father decides to go back home without discussing the break-up with Miss McCabe.

If anything the protagonist’s father is not taking responsibility for his actions. It would be more appropriate for him to be honest with Miss McCabe rather than simply abandoning her without any type of explanation. Not only is the protagonist’s father acting selfishly but he is also avoiding having to tell Miss McCabe as to why he no longer has any interest in seeing her or getting engaged. His actions lack any type of honesty. Similarly his fears that he may have to take care of Miss McCabe suggest that the most important person in the protagonist’s father’s life is himself. He had been seeking companionship however everything must be on his terms. Something that is noticeable by fact that the protagonist’s father was unhappy with many of the women that he had seen before he choose Ms McCabe. It is possible that the other women may have been too much work for the protagonist’s father. He is looking for something easy in life without having to put too much effort in. Miss McCabe fits the bill till she has a heart attack.

Though the protagonist’s father has every right to choose the woman he wishes to marry some critics might suggest he is acting spinelessly by abandoning or rejecting Miss McCabe. It may also be a case that the protagonist is rejecting his father (and Miss McCabe). Something that is noticeable by the protagonist’s desire to ‘avoid the trout dinner and anything more got to do with them.’ As to why the protagonist wishes to reject his father and Miss McCabe is uncertain. He may have tired of their interaction with one another. Where previously he had no objection to his father finding female companionship. The protagonist has now changed his mind. The protagonist’s relationship with his uncle is also interesting as he appears to have more constructive dialogue with him than he does with his father. Throughout the story the father has been concerned only with his own goal of finding a companion. Whereas it seems his uncle listens to him. Something that is noticeable by the fact that they go on a four-mile walk together and then go to the Grand Central for a drink. It is as though both the protagonist and his uncle share common interests not only professionally but personally too.

The end of the story is also interesting as McGahern repeats a paragraph. This may be important as McGahern could be suggesting that just as the stoat will kill again so too symbolically will the protagonist’s father. Just as the stoat has killed the rabbit. The protagonist’s father has killed off his relationship with Miss McCabe and he may do so with any other woman that does not match the strict criteria that the protagonist’s father has set out. Though the protagonist’s father is looking for companionship he also seems to be looking for perfection yet he is not able to offer this himself. As a man he is flawed. He has abandoned Miss McCabe for no other reason apart from the fact she had a heart attack. The standard that the protagonist’s father has set and which many women have not been able to attain in all possibility may not be realistic. The protagonist’s father himself has very little to offer. He is stuck in his ways something that is noticeable by his reading habits when it comes to the newspaper. Yet the woman that the protagonist’s father seeks must be able to accommodate his idiosyncratic way of living and at the same time have no quirks of note themselves. Again the protagonist’s father is a selfish man who thinks only of himself. If the woman does not tick all the right boxes the protagonist’s father doesn’t want to know. Yet he cannot tick some of the boxes himself.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Stoat by John McGahern." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 2 Oct. 2017. Web.


  • What are some of the symbols in this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Afia. In many ways the stoat and its actions mirrors the protagonist’s father. Just as they stoat has the ability to kill the rabbit. So too does the protagonists father have the ability to break Miss McCabe’s heart and other women’s heart. The holiday home may also have some symbolic significance. It is possible that McGahern is using the holiday home to highlight the fact that the protagonist’s father doesn’t really take his relationship with Miss McCabe seriously. He won’t be there for her. Just as a holiday is a time to relax. The protagonist’s father might be a little too relaxed. The fact that the protagonist’s father also was unhappy with a lot of the women he met before meeting Miss McCabe may suggest that the protagonist’s father is too picky. It is more likely that this is the case rather than the fact the women the protagonist’s father met were unsuitable. The protagonist’s father is looking for perfection from an imperfect situation.

      • An allegory is state or hidden message within a story line. In this story the rabbit and stoat’s story has hidden meaning of human activities. The father’s ending up the relationship between Miss McCabe and him is disgusting action as performed by the stoat and running from the cottage us like rabbit who runs from stoat but couldn’t.

  • can you describe the narrator”s relationship with his father?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The narrator’s relationship with his father is strained. The narrator does not agree with how his father is treating Miss McCabe. He would also view his relationship with his uncle as being more father-like than his own relationship with his father.

      • What I have gathered from the ending of short story is that the father ends up becoming a rabbit when he desperately tries to avoid the emotional pain of death of Miss McCabe, if she dies after their marriage. Which is noticeable by his saying “who will marry a woman who can pop off any minute”. The stoat he glimpsed in Miss McCabe hotel room represents inevitable destruction of their relationship with the father turning out to be a rabbit desperately running from the fear of loss and his fear turning out to be his Stoat.

  • Thank you a lot.

  • I am leaning toward idea that the stoat represents death and the that rabbit is a representation of the father. I sensed that the father was fearful of death; therefore influencing his choice to try to marry so quickly and be willing to abandon his former ideas as well. What do you think?

  • What is the setting for the stoat?

  • Why is rejection also a theme?

  • We were told to write a summary using the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution for this story but I am having trouble doing it. May you pls help me out. Thanks

  • Hey, I have to write about how the author makes the introduction to the story so interesting and memorable for the short story the stoat

  • How would you describe the structure of the short story?

  • instances of selfishness and death in the story

  • Instances of death in the story

  • Could you please explain then repetition of the last paragraph? What’s its significance?

  • Hi I was wondering what you think the purpose of the author repeating the passage at the end of the story is?

  • Thank you for this, helped me a lot.

  • What is the setting of the story?

  • What are the symbols of this story

  • Was the stoat the cause of Miss McCabe’s heart attack?

  • I have to write on “How can the narrator’s observation of the stoat and the rabbit be seen as an allegory for his observation of his father and his father’s relationship with Ms McCabe?​ ” Please help, for I do not really understand

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I wouldn’t know where to start it’s been a while since I read the story. Perhaps if you take into consideration the stoat ‘stalking’ the rabbit. Likewise the boy’s father ‘stalks or looks for a female companion. When the chase is over and the rabbit is killed so too is the boy’s father’s love for Miss McCabe. The fact that final paragraph is a repeat of another paragraph in the story suggests that the stoat and the boy’s father will do it all over again.

  • In this story is the father depicting the stoat or the rabbit ?

  • How is the rabbit and stoat a motif?

  • Are there any conflicts in this story?

  • Please help me write on the theme of responsibility with regard to this story!

  • Could you please describe the climax of the story? Thank you.

  • Can u give me some examples for predator and prey being seen in the father , Miss McCabe , uncle and the boy

  • The character of the father.

  • Can you please explain what purpose does the uncle serve in the story? The uncle is not autobiographical, so why would McGahern invent him?

  • What can you tell about the decision of the father to reject Miss McCabe

  • Give a description on the student.

  • Can you pls give more description?

  • Can you further explain to me about the relationship between the student and uncle?

  • a little description more pls

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m afraid I would need to read the story again and at the moment I’m focused on other stories that I also have to read.

  • what can you tell about student and his mother

  • what was his job?

  • Thanks for your help and time.

  • Can you talk about the theme of death in the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The students’s mother is dead. The rabbit is killed and the father kills off any chances of a romance with Miss McCabe. McGahern possibly using each incident to suggest the prevalence of death in both the students and his father’s life. Nothing grows.

  • I am not sure if the father is the stoat and Ms McCabe is the rabbit or the father is the rabbit and Mc McCabe is the stoat?

    Thank you for your explanation

  • What is the Rising action, the falling action and resolution?

  • Can you explain about the. character sketches of the father and son

  • Also can you tell about the father

  • Thanks a lot and it is useful for IGCSE Cambridge examination

  • Thanks for all that you have answered me for my questions and it was useful not only for me but also for shevon too. We are writing the IGCSE examination on 2019. Thanks.

  • I’ve got some confusions! The story is not too clear for me…..Can I have the fully fledged summary of “The Stoat” Please? Thank you……..

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m sorry but I would need to read the story again to be able to provide you with a fully fledged summary and at the moment I have a back log of stories that I need to read.

  • Can explain the relationship between father and the son

  • Can you give me the answer pls

  • I have doubt about the father’s rejection of Miss McCabe. Can you explain?

  • This is a very helpful website for the people who sit for the IGSCE examination . Pra bath, shevon and me are friends in school who sits for the exam held in next year . .Good job..

  • can you pls explain at which stages that Miss McCabe becomes the symbol of stoat and rabbit

  • Did you mean that Miss McCabe is killed by the son’s father?

  • Did the father accept then to live with Miss McCabe or something else happen to their family?

  • I don’t have an clear idea of the ending of the story (not about that repeating paragraph. I understood it easily by your post). Can you pls explain me the whole ending because it is much useful for o/l?

  • Does the uncle and student represent any symbolism other than father and McCabe?

  • Can you please tell me after father left her what happens to McCabe’s and son’s life? and how does the uncle may involve? (this is much needed answer)

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The son goes to visit his uncle. As to what happens next is uncertain. The father returns home and the reader is left assuming that Miss McCabe will eventually realise that the father has left her.

  • I can’t understand it clearly please explain me the answer more

  • Is it that the son lived happily with uncle, the father left them and lived along and also mother lived along in McCabe, Can you please explain about this?

  • Thanks for second time also. You spend your time and thanks for you. All you answered and the post gave me a clear understanding. I will ask if I have any question later. Thanks for all you have done.

  • what is the tone and language of this story?

  • Can anyone please tell me what are the conflicts in the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Two that spring to mind are the father’s relationship (particularly the end of the relationship with Miss McCabe) when he gets the son to tell her that the relationship is over because he himself is unable to tell her. The other noticeable conflict is the son’s dislike in having to do as his father wants him to do when it comes to Miss McCabe. Which may be leading the son closer to his uncle.

  • can you please explain the theme of fear
    also amazing analysis nice work!

  • Having a discussion with my student, she suggested that the stoat could also be Ms McCabe as she was the one chasing McGlaren and targeting him to stay with him like a stoat and McGlaren is trying to run like a rabbit.

    Dermot how would you consider this analysis? Is it valid to think it otherwise?

    Your analysis have been of great help to me Thanks a lot

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s a valid point and one that can’t be ignored. Miss McCabe certainly does have the traits of the stoat.

    • literator for life

      BUT Neha yes McCabe might have chased down McGlaren but in no way was he like the rabbit cause he eventually left the rabbit could not leave unlike McGlaren so yh

  • Nice, that really helped me thanks

  • can you please please please please explain the theme of rejection to me?

  • Please do help me write on the theme of selfishness as portrayed in the story

  • Can someone tell some quotes that shows that the father is selfish? please, thanks

  • and again, can you explain this quote ‘ who wants to marry a woman who can pop off at any minute?

  • Dermot, you are the man 🙂 thanks for this summary

  • This really helped a lot. But I was told that Miss McCabe is compared to the stoat as she still insisted on getting married to the boys father even after her attack. Just as the stoat held on to the rabbit to suck it’s blood so it’s kind of confusing me because that isn’t what I read here. Help please!

  • I need help with the charactersketch of both the father and the boy

  • Is love a theme in the stoat?

  • Hi, thank you very much for the helpful insights you have given in this story . Please can you answer one question.

    How father is vividly portrayed by Mac Gahern in the story The stoat?

    I would be highly obliged Thank you

  • Can you list me all the themes please?

  • Can you tell me the Structure, and importance of the structure, in the story?

  • Why does the writer say “ it was the stoat the Father has glimpsed in Miss McCabe’s hotel room” . Does that mean that Ms. McCabe was the stoat ? How would we justify that ?

  • I think the stoat could represent a person’s fears. So when it says that the father had seen the stoat in the lady’s room, it could mean that the father had ‘seen’ his fear of having to deal with (another) death and being alone.

    The fact that the father tries to run away from his fears is one of the things that the son dislikes about his father.

    The moral of the story could be to face your fears rather than try to run away from them as your fears tend to chase you…

  • The irony is that the son is also running away – from his father!

  • Where are the settings of the story?

  • Hey…I was asked to relate the killing of the rabbit by the stoat to how the boy’s father treated Miss McCabe after her heart attack.

  • What is the connection between the story of the stoat and the main story

  • can you tell me the character the uncle has and also Miss McCabe?

    love the summary

  • Which ways does the author convey the idea of ‘selfishness’

  • Would you elaborate on the theme of death in the story the stoat?

  • I am studying this for school and I would like to know why the protagonist wants to kill his father

  • How would you end an essay for the stoat for the question theme of death

  • Wow you just saved my essay. Thank you.

  • Does the father miss his wife ?If he does ..why does he?

  • What is the relationship that exists between the father and the son?

  • hello,
    is it that the father is the stoat and mcCabe the rabbit or vise versa?
    could you please explain with reference why?
    also that how is the title suitable for the story and the happening inside it?

  • How has death been portrayed in John McGahern’s “The Stoat”?

  • How has the author portrayed the strange relationship between the father and the son. this is my 25 mark answer for school which has an ib board… can you help me in any way

  • Hello Dermot how are you? I learnt many things from all the posts related for o’levels and got good results for term tests. Can you remember I asked about 15 questions from you and you helped me a lot. I just went through other stories also and went some of posts too. Great work! I just want to say you are doing a great service for children who don’t understand these big concepts also. So good day Dermot.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s great to know that you get some benefit form the blog Prabath. Congratulations on your good grades.

  • It also tells that protagonist is sensitive about its family relations that he does not want any other person like Ms McCabe to take the place of his mother also he is fearful that Ms McCabe might also die which would repeat the incident and would grieve his father so the protagonist is caring to his father and having good relations with his father. What do you think?

  • how does the author affectively bring out the strange relationship between father and son?

  • what does the story tell us about the protagonist and how does the authors writing make you feel about the protagonist??

  • Thanks a lot for the help.

  • what about the humour brought out by McGahern?

  • What the literal and metaphoric meaning

  • Hi there what do you think about the 4 characters and describe them using adjectives

    The Son-
    The father-
    Miss McCabe-
    The uncle-

  • how can you describe the father’s character?

  • how can you describe the heart attack being significant to the boy as he took away the rabbit from the stoat hence they are both running from Miss McCabe because of her heart attack since the father said earlier that who would want to marry a woman who can pop off at any minute..

  • which is the setting of the story?

  • How is the theme of honesty represented?

  • thanks a lot! 🙂

  • At first I did not understand the story but now I do. Thanks

  • How does McGahern’s writing make this a powerful story

  • please describe the plot and structure of the stoat

  • Can you tell me the characters plz

  • thanks, mate ur analysis helped me understand this story.

  • Comment in detail on the central themes of selfishness, responsibility, and rejection as portrayed in The Stoat.

  • May you please send a short summary of the story?

  • Good people could you please help me with literature thought questions.

  • literator for life

    So I understand that selfishness is a theme but what about selflessness

  • How is the father compared to the stoat?

  • I just have a question, how does the writer effectively convey the son’s disdain / contempt for his father?

  • Can you help me with this question? In what ways does the writer convey a distinctive voice for the character?

  • In what ways does the writer convey a distinctive voice for the main character(son)?

  • what do you mean by strong?

  • Sorry for all the questions. But can you tell me in what ways does the writer convey a distinctive voice for the father?


  • Quotes in the story that shows the relationship between the narrator and his father

  • How does the allegory of the stoat presented at the beginning of the story and the rabbit help to support the theme of the story?

  • Amazing work ….. just wanted to confirm that when the father left miss McCabe he was the stoat and when he ran away from that place in the end he was the rabbit right?

  • how would you summarize the plot in a few sentences?

  • How does McGahern make this extract so sad?

  • How does McGahern make this extract sad?

    On Friday afternoon she bought cut flowers – daffodils, anemones,a few twigs of a red-leaved
    shrub, wrapped in mauve waxed paper, for Saturday was the seventeenth anniversary of her
    husband’s death and she planned to visit his grave, as she did each year, to weed it and put fresh
    flowers in the two jam jars standing one on each side of the tombstone. Her visit this year occupied
    her thoughts more than usual. She had bought the flowers to force herself to make the journey
    that each year became more hazardous, from the walk to the bus stop, the change of buses at the
    Octagon, to the bitterness of the winds blowing from the open sea across almost unsheltered rows
    of tombstones; and the tiredness that over came her when it was time to return home when she
    longed to find a place beside the graves, in the soft grass, and fall asleep.

    That evening she filled the coal bucket, stoked the fire. Her movements were slow and arduous,
    her back and shoulder gave her so much pain. She cooked her tea – liver and bacon – set her knife
    and fork on the tea towel she used as a tablecloth, turned up the volume of the polished red radio
    to listen to the Weather Report and the News, ate her tea, washed her dishes, then sat drowsing in
    the rocking chair by the fire,waiting for the water to get hot enough for a bath. Visits to the
    cemetery,the doctor, and to relatives, to stay, always demanded a bath. When she was sure that
    the water was hot enough (and her tea had been digested)she ventured from the kitchen through
    the cold passageway to the colder bathroom. She paused in the doorway to get used to the chill of
    the air then she walked slowly, feeling with each step the pain in her back, across to the bath, and
    though she knew that she was gradually losing the power in her hands she managed to wrench on
    the stiff cold and hot taps and half-fill the bath with warm water. How wasteful, she thought, that
    with the kitchen fire always burning during the past month of frost, and the water almost always
    hot, getting in and out of a bath had become such an effort that it was not possible to bath neither
    every night nor even every week!

    She found a big towel, laid it ready over a chair, arranged the chair so that should difficulty arise as
    it had last time she bathed she would have some way of rescuing herself; then with her
    nightclothes warming on a page of newspaper inside the coal oven and her dressing-gown across
    the chair to be put on the instant she stepped from the bath, she undressed and pausing first to get
    her breath and clinging tightly to the slippery yellow-stained rim that now seemed more like the
    edge of a cliff with a deep drop below into the sea, slowly and painfully she climbed into the bath.
    —I’ll put on my nightie the instant I get out, she thought. The instant she got out indeed! She knew
    it would be more than a matter of instants yet she tried to think of it calmly, without dread, telling
    herself that when the time came she would be very careful, taking the process step by step,
    surprising her bad back and shoulder and her powerless wrists into performing feats they might
    usually rebel against, but the key to controlling them would be the surprise, the slow stealing up on
    them. With care, with thought …

    Sitting upright, not daring to lean back or lie down, she soaped herself, washing away the dirt of
    the past fortnight, seeing with satisfaction how it drifted about on the water as a sign that she was
    clean again. Then when her washing was completed she found herself looking for excuses not to try
    yet to climb out. Those old woman’s finger nails, cracked and dry, where germs could lodge, would
    need to be scrubbed again; the skin of her heels, too, growing so hard that her feet might have
    been turning to stone; behind her ears where a thread of dirt lay in the rim; after all, she did not often have the
    luxury of a bath, did she? How warm it was! She drowsed a moment. If only she could fall asleep
    then wake to find herself in her nightdress in bed for the night! Slowly she rewashed her body, and
    when she knew she could no longer deceive herself into thinking she was not clean she reluctantly
    replaced the soap, brush and flannel in the groove at the side of the bath, feeling as she loosened
    her grip on them that all strength and support were ebbing from her. Quickly she seized the
    nail-brush again, but its magic had been used and was gone; it would not adopt the role she tried
    to urge upon it. The flannel too, and the soap, were frail flotsam to cling to in the hope of being
    borne to safety.

    She was alone now.

    Please is for an exam

    thank in advance

  • can you discuss about the theme of death in the story please?

  • thanks but can you elaborate a little more about the theme of death please?

  • What is the atmosphere throughout the story?

  • can you tell me the relationship between miss cabe and the father?

  • Could you describe the relationship of the protagonists father with Ms McCabe .

  • How is Miss McCabe presented throughout the story?

  • How does McGahern portray the relationship between the boy and his father

  • May you please give me more points on how the writer portrays the relationship between the boy and his father

  • Sir can you tell me what types of literary devices are in this story?

  • why is the name of the story “The stoat”?

  • Hey I just wanna say thanks a lot for doing what youre doing, answering questions in the comments and writing these essays. You’re really helping us a lot.

  • What’s the meaning of this line ” as if all irons were being suddenly all truly struck and were flowing from all directions to the heart of green ” in the story ?

  • what are the allegorical elements of the story?

  • hi! what is the tone/mood of the story?

  • how does the writer of the stoat vividly suggest that little things can have significant impact on bigger things?

  • Hi, can you please state instances of symbolism in the story? Apart from the stoat. Thank you!

  • Different symbols in the story?

  • How does the author convey a sense of fraud?

  • how does the writer of the stoat vividly suggest that little things can have significant impact on bigger things? please explain more carefully

  • “He saw with terrifying clarity that it was the stoat the father had glimpsed in Miss McCabe’s hotel room, and he was running.”

    what literary technique is used in this quote?

  • you only analysed the protagonist’s father. analyse the protagonists character also.

  • I have a question? How does the writer vividly suggest that little things can have a significant impact on bigger things?

  • what is the fathers relationship with the uncle and miss mccabe

  • what is the relationship between the father and the uncle

  • What evidence shows us that the father and the boy did not like each other

  • How is the study a symbol?

  • The father is dishonest for not telling Miss McCabe why he didn’t want to be engaged to her
    so how is honesty theme?

  • a have a few questions

    1. This story is autobiographical (based on some real events in the author’s life). What does this tell us about the author?

    2. What purpose does the uncle serve in the story?

    3. The uncle is not autobiographical, so why would McGahern invent him? Explain.

    4. What is the father seeking? Why?

    5. How does he go about getting what he seeks? Does it work?

    6. Why does he change his mind?

    7. Explain the allegorical elements in this story.

    8. What do you feel the author is really telling us?

    9. How has he done this & did you feel he was successful?

  • Re-read lines 31-64. Bearing in mind what we discussed in class about the iceberg theory, write down your impressions about the three characters and the relationships among them.

  • Thank you, very helpful. What is the effect created by the narrative point of view in this story?

  • i need a simple plot summary of the whole story of ‘the stoat’, ‘journey’, ‘there will come soft rain’ and ‘the lemon orchard’. It is for my igcse o level Cambridge examination and I urgently need some help.

  • What is the plot of this story?

  • Could you tell me a quote that represents the relationship of the son and the father? I have to do an essay and include quotes and explain them

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