The Stoat by John McGahern

The Stoat - John McGahernIn 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Sounds like a good idea. I like it. It fits in well with the story.

      • Isn’t the stoat represented as the father as they are both “Hunting their prey” and every time it mentions the rabbit, Ms McCabe is used after that implying that Ms McCabe is the rabbit as she had “pale tweeds” and other things were described to portray her as a rabbit.

  • What is the setting for the stoat?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The story is set in a holiday home (in Ireland). Though it does move to different locations in the same town.

  • Why is rejection also a theme?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The protagonist’s father rejects Miss McCabe. Also the protagonist at the end of the story may be rejecting his father.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not really sure of an answer. Perhaps the comparison of the nature of an animal (the stoat) and that of a human being (the father). Both act on instinct.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s difficult to say. McGahern opens the story and ends the story with the protagonist apart and departing from his father. With the mid section being a setting of conflict (for father and Miss McCabe). However the real conflict may be the fact that the protagonist is distancing himself from his father. Which would explain the reasoning behind having the protagonist alone at the start and end of the story.

  • instances of selfishness and death in the story

  • Instances of death in the story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There’s two I think. One where the stoat kills the rabbit (double check this) and the death of Mrs McCabe’s relationship with the boy’s father.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      If you check out the final paragraph of the post you might find what you are looking for.

  • Thank you for this, helped me a lot.

  • What is the setting of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The story is set in a holiday home (in Ireland). Though it does move to different locations in the same town.

  • 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 ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father would be symbolically depicted as being the stoat while Ms McCabe would be represented by the rabbit.

      • In the story, he is shown as the rabbit and not the stoat. Ms. Mc Cabe is the stoat who is relentlessly pursuing him and wants to get married to him against his wishes after a change of her circumstances.

        However, the roles are interchangeable as like the stoat, he is selfish and preys on her interest in him in the beginning while Ms. Mc Cabe is the rabbit left at the mercy of the selfish school principal.

  • How is the rabbit and stoat a motif?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Just as the protagonist’s father will kill any chances he has of love with others (Miss McCabe as an example). So too will the stoat continue to kill rabbits.

  • Are there any conflicts in this story?

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One way to look at it is. The son wishes that his father would act responsibly when it comes to telling Miss McCabe that the relationship is over. Rather than the son having to tell her.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The climax of the story occurs when Miss McCabe falls ill and the father decides not to remain in contact with her.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father may be acting like a predator when he advertises for companionship and Miss McCabe may be his prey. He does attempt to control her throughout the story as well. Eventually discarding her when she is of no use to him. With regard to the uncle and the boy. Their relationship appears to be based more on friendship and equality rather than on predator versus prey.

  • The character of the father.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father is selfish and thinks only of himself. Also he may be insecure due to the fact he has to ask his son to tell Miss McCabe that the courtship is over.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      You can tell that he is acting selfishly because of Miss McCabe’s poor health (or perceived poor health). His primary focus is on himself and not on Miss McCabe. Who he had planned to continue a relationship with till she feel ill.

  • Give a description on the student.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The student has lost his mother though appears to have live a balanced life not through his father’s actions but because of his close connection with his uncle.

  • Can you pls give more description?

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The student looks upon his uncle as being a father figure. He enjoys his company more than he does his own father’s. It is as though the student feels more content in life when he is with his 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m working from memory and I don’t recall a relationship between the student and his mother (though I could be wrong). As I’ve previously mentioned I would need to read the story again.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Working from memory. The father is selfish, thinks only of himself and asks his son to inform Miss McCabe that the relationship is over. With regards to the son. There appears to be a void in his life which his uncle seems to fill. As a son he does not really like his father.

  • Dermot (Post Author)

    Working from memory. The father is selfish, thinks only of himself and asks his son to inform Miss McCabe that the relationship is over. With regards to the son. There appears to be a void in his life which his uncle seems to fill. As a son he does not really like his father.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      What do you doubt? The father asks the son to tell Miss McCabe that he won’t be seeing her again.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Miss McCabe symbolizes the rabbit while the father symbolizes the stoat. Firstly Miss McCabe is pursued (or courted) by the father and then she is killed off (not literally) when the father gets his son to tell Miss McCabe the relationship is over.

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

  • Dermot (Post Author)

    Miss McCabe still continued to have plans for the future with the father. It is as though she wasn’t listening to the son.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father leaves Miss McCabe in the hotel and returns home. The relationship is over. Though Miss McCabe can’t see this. By repeating the paragraph the writer (John McGahern) may be suggesting that the father (who symbolizes the stoat) will repeat his actions with another woman (or rabbit – symbolism for Miss McCabe or other women).

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      At the end of the story the son goes to visit his uncle. Where he feels more comfortable. Miss McCabe we assume will understand that she has been abandoned when she goes to the holiday cottage and the father and son aren’t there. The uncle and the role he’ll play with the son is not known.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I don’t know if the son stayed with the uncle. McGahern never tells the reader. As to what happens Miss McCabe (who is not the mother) is also difficult to say as no information is provided by McGahern.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I would need to read the story again to answer your question. It’s been a while since I read the 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.

  • Nice, that really helped me thanks

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father rejects Miss McCabe because of her illness. The son may also be rejecting his father in favour of his uncle.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father acts selfishly by getting his son to tell Miss McCabe that he is no longer interested in a relationship with her. Rather than having the decency to tell Miss McCabe himself. the father uses his son to tell her.

  • 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!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There is a slight confusion. Miss McCabe represents the rabbit while the father represents the stoat. She may have insisted on getting married but that was because she was still caught in the father’s grip.

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

  • Is love a theme in the stoat?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It could be. Miss McCabe may very well be in love with the father. While the boy may not actually love his father at all.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One noticeable thing about the structure of the story is the fact that McGahern repeats the final paragraph. By doing so he is re-emphasizing that the father (and the stoat) will continue to act as they do.

  • 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 ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It is more likely that the father got a glimpse of himself and knew the direction he was going to take.

      • How about the Father being the rabbit as he was the one running away from the harsh reality of death ( inevitability of death) . He had kept his eyes closed to the reality that he would also die one day. The writer says that they all were running . In that case , death is the stout as it is the one chasing him.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The story is set in two different locations. The town where the uncle lives and the town where the father and son are renting a holiday home.

  • 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.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      There would be similarities. Just as the rabbit is left to die. So too is Miss McCabe (symbolically). Also the stoat has no concern for the rabbit. Neither does the father have any concern for how Miss McCabe may feel when it comes to their relationship coming to an end.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The stoat can be seen to represent the father and how the stoat treats the rabbit is symbolically similar to how the father treats Miss McCabe.

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

    love the summary

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father is a selfish man who thinks only about his own needs. While Miss McCabe is prepared to give her life to the father. She acts selflessly throughout the story.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Through the father’s character and actions. He acts selfishly towards Miss McCabe and thinks only of himself.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s difficult to say. Perhaps because of how he (the father) treats Miss McCabe. Also the protagonist’s mother is dead. She may have had a difficult life with the father.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Perhaps by suggesting that the father will continue to act the same. Destroying every relationship he has. Just as the stoat killed the rabbit.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The father is the stoat while Miss McCabe is the rabbit. The father (or stoat) preys on Miss McCabe (or the rabbit). Discarding her at the end of the story. The title is suitable because the stoat follows the actions of the father.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      As a cruel part of life. Firstly the stoat killing the rabbit out of instinct or necessity and the father ending the relationship with Miss McCabe.

  • 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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The son is reluctant to tell Miss McCabe that she is no longer wanted by his father. The son feels as though the father has never changed and he is disappointed by this. If anything the father should tell Miss McCabe himself. Also by introducing the uncle into the story (as a second father figure) McGahern manages to highlight the strain on the father son relationship.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Also the father is a selfish man so it is difficult for the son to have a relationship with him.

  • 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?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that insight Haseeb. I think you could be right. The protagonist may be protecting himself.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One way is by introducing the uncle’s character. Who acts more like a father to the son than his own father does. Which would highlight the struggles in the father and son relationship.

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

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The protagonist is tired of his father’s ways. The reader is also left supportive of the protagonist. The father is a selfish man who thinks of nobody but himself.

  • Thanks a lot for the help.

  • what about the humour brought out by McGahern?

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