‘Happiness’ by Mary Lavin

Happiness by Mary Lavin, 1968

The magic trick:

Establishing a philosophy early in the story; then showing how the narrator feels about that philosophy throughout the rest of the text

We begin a week of Mary Lavin stories, sending us into the world of Irish Catholicism. It can be an intense place.

“Happiness” presents a touching portrait of the narrator’s mother. She’s raising three daughters alone, her husband having died young. The story presents a thesis of sorts early on – the mother’s philosophy on happiness. “Never must we confound it with pleasure. Nor think sorrow its exact opposite.”

The story then goes on to explore how the daughters learn to both embrace and reject that philosophy as they grow up and watch their mother struggle. And that’s quite a trick on Lavin’s part.

The selection:

You see, according to Mother, annoyance and fatigue, and even illness and pain, could coexist with happiness. She had a habit of asking people if they were happy at times and in places that, to say the least of it, seemed to us inappropriate. ‘But are you happy?’ she’d probe as one lay sick and bathed in sweat, or in the throes of a jumping toothache. And once in our presence she made the inquiry of an old friend as he lay upon his deathbed. ‘Why not?’ she asked when we took her to task for it later. ‘Isn’t it more important than ever to be happy when you’re dying? Take my own father, do you know what he said in his last moments? On his deathbed, he defied me to name a man who had enjoyed a better life. In spite of dreadful pain, his face radiated happiness.’ Mother nodded her head comfortably. ‘Happiness drives out pain, as fire burns out fire.’

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One thought on “‘Happiness’ by Mary Lavin

  1. Pingback: ‘Happiness’ by Mary Lavin – Rush Naf

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