‘The Man Of The House’ by Frank O’Connor

The Man Of The House by Frank O’Connor, 1949

The magic trick:

Showing the narrator to be simultaneously of great maturity and immaturity

This is another excellent example of Frank O’Connor’s childhood story that feature a young protagonist blessed with extraordinary sensitivity and ignorance at the same time. Like a chocolate-covered pretzel, it’s a combination that will never lead you astray.

The boy in “The Man Of The House” demonstrates tremendous maturity and even wisdom in the first half of the story as he tends to his ill mother. He is so self-aware that he continually reminds himself to stay focused. Concentration, he tells us, is the key to his staying on the straight-and-narrow.

And, of course, in the second half, he demonstrates even stronger qualities of innocence and immaturity. As he predicted himself, a lack of concentration on the task at hand derails him completely. In a simple – but nonetheless effective – bit of structure, the story ends with the mother resuming her regular role of parent, reversing the earlier relationship. And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part. 

The selection:

In the afternoon my mother wanted me to go out and play, but I wouldn’t go far. I remembered my own weakness. I knew if once I went a certain distance I should drift towards the Glen, with the barrack drill-field perched on a cliff about it; the rifle range below, and below that again the mill-pond and mill-stream running through a wooded gorge – the Rockies, Himalayas, or Highlands according to your mood. Concentration; that was what I had to practice. One slip and I should be among those children that Minnie Ryan disapproved of, who were more like savages than Christians.

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