‘The Old Man Of The Sea’ by Maeve Brennan

The Old Man Of The Sea by Maeve Brennan, 1955

The magic trick:

Taking a sad, stressful story into the realm of domestic comedy 

This is a great example of the way Maeve Brennan can capture tremendous sadness and humor in a tidy, little 3,000-word package. The story highlights the plight of a poor man who makes ends meet by selling apples door to door. Young Maeve’s mother wants to help. It doesn’t go well.

Nothing funny about that, right?

Until, somehow, by the end of the story, you’re laughing. You revel in the domestic comedy, even as in the back of your mind you remember it’s at the expense of some kind of sadness.

And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.

The selection:

“He’s roaring mad!” Derry whispered. “He’ll kill us all.”

“Can you make out what he’s saying?” asked my mother, who was appalled.

“He’s saying, ‘Apple, apple, apple,’” I said.

Derry and I collapsed into hysterical mirth. My mother bundled us out into the garden and came out herself.

“Have you no heart?” she said. “To laugh at an unfortunate old man who probably never gets enough to eat!”

“Now we’re really not in,” I said, “because we’re out in the garden.”

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