Friday, May 11, 2018

Frank O’Connor – My Oedipus Complex (Overview & Questions)
Relationships between parents and their children are never easy. All families have their ups and downs, their moments of crisis, periods of serenity, intervals of strife and discord. Children's development sees to it that nothing remains static for too long.

In My Oedipus Complex, O'Connor portrays precisely such a moment in a child's life when awareness grows and the canvas of life begins to acquire dabs of disappointment. Poor Larry realizes he has a father and a baby brother to contend with. 

Unlike what one might expect from a coming-of-age tale, the maturity of the story is not found in its characters but in O'Connor's ability to leave aside his traumatic childhood and focus on a constructive message. He could have easily depicted the father as the drunk in his life who couldn't keep a job but was supported by a wife who cleaned houses so the family would not starve. He could have idolized the mother or fashioned her after his own, suffering in silence from chronic appendicitis for many years but never seeking medical help for lack of money. Instead, he limited her to being a soothing, practical, no-nonsense woman. As for the father, we cannot but remark a certain resemblance to our own fathers, to an uncle, or a grandfather, in other words a run-of-the-mill adult male who grumbles, is often away from home, leaves child-rearing mostly to the mother, and doesn't feel the need to ingratiate himself with his son.

With its bittersweet taste and instances of irony, My Oedipus Complex reminds us of our own childish narrow-mindedness and selfish demand for attention, which, I fear, we may not have outgrown exactly

The notes that follow should help guide you through this story and lead the way for class discussion, research and analysis for assignments.

Read the story here.

Click on the picture for explanations of literary terms

Frank O’Connor – My Oedipus Complex

  • life 
    • 1903-1966 
    • Irish
    • wrote more than 150 works
    • 1918 joined IRA (Irish Republican Army = dedicated to Irish Republicanism = want all of Ireland to be independent; support political violence as means of attaining independence) 
    • served in IRA during the Irish War of Independence vs. British 
      • 1918 election: Sinn Fein (Irish Republican Party) won + declared independence of Ireland from the British 
      • next day 2 officers of the British Armed Police in Ireland shot dead by IRA members (acting on their own initiative)
    • was imprisoned 1922-1923
    • childhood: father= alcoholic, in debt, abused family
    • loved his mother, resented his father for the way he treated them
  • plot 
    • about a family 
    • father comes back from WWI 
    • son feels left out as father is stealing mother’s attention 
    • antagonism between father + son grows 
    • birth of younger brother, Sonny, makes son hate brother more than father 
    • son feels sorry for father who also doesn’t get mother’s attention anymore 
    • father seems to soften to son as well

  • stages of antagonism (all due to a break from routine) 
    • happiness of mother that father is back from war for good 
    • father talks to mother son interrupts 
    • son goes on walk with father: can’t go where he wants; father doesn’t wait for him to follow; son’s usual tricks with mother don’t work on father
    • father reads newspaper + tells news to mother: steals mother’s attention away from son 
    • morning talks with mother in bed disrupted: son must be quiet because father’s asleep, tired from work (= start of open enmity) 
        • son wants father to sleep in separate bed 
        • promised to stay quiet + play with his toys, but got bored after a while 
        • father: “Shut up, you little puppy.” son: “Shut up, you!”
    • son declares he’ll marry mother when he grows up
    • baby arrives = end of antagonism 
        • son feels sorry for father 
        • father comes to sleep in son’s bed 
        • both are ignored by mother: son calls mother “simpleminded” for not seeing through Sonny’s schemes to attract attention

  • characters
      • Larry (son) 
        • changes through the course of the story 
        • at the start: stubborn, self-centered, self-indulgent, sees mother’s positive traits only 
        • understands rudimentary dynamics of a family: every son is ‘deposed’ as king / center of attention 
        • feels compassion for father in the end: realizes what father must be feeling (= process of maturity), sees mother’s negative traits (realizes she has flaws as well) 
        • by transferring his hatred to Sonny he demonstrates he’s still not mature enough (so his change of character is incomplete)

      • Mick (father) 
        • described as bony, had common accent (= common worker, possibly lower class) 
        • grumpy, tired, impatient, abrupt 
        • hard-working, provides for family 
        • doesn’t get on well with children (“If another baby comes into this family … I’m going out.”): other interpretation = shirks father’s responsibility 
        • stubborn, doesn’t let Larry push him around (when they go on walk) or play with his regimental badges, Gurkha knives, button sticks (used by soldiers in WWI and WWII to keep their uniform clean when polishing the brass buttons) = pride in accomplishments 
        • prepared to use violence to be obeyed: “Larry, if you don’t behave, I’ll give you a good slap.” “He wants his bottom smacked.” 
        • similar to Larry in many respects

      • mother 
        • sweet, mediator, keeps balance 
        • patient: explains to Larry, not cross with him immediately 
        • is stern but doesn’t threaten violence: “Now once and for all, you’re to be perfectly quiet or go back to your own bed. Which is it to be?” = gets her way but allows Larry the privilege of making the decision 
        • pacifies situation before father explodes on Larry 
        • has a way with children: her explanation why father is tired + needs to work is easy for Larry to understand (story about Miss MacCarthy + getting pennies)

      • Sonny (new baby brother)

  • point of view 
    • 1st person point of view (Larry) 
    • unreliable because young 
    • this unreliability creates humor in story (irony of situation reader knows more than Larry does) 
    • written through the perspective of older Larry (past tense used)

  • themes 
    • family dynamics 
      • father-son relationship 
      • mother-son relationship 
      • sibling relationship
    • childhood 
      • innocence lack of critical judgment 
      • egocentricity 
      • dependence on adults

    • maturity
    • fatherhood vs motherhood

  • tone 
    • humorous 
    • ironic

  • title 
    • Oedipus complex = psychoanalytic theory coined by Sigmund Freud 
    • based on 5th century Greek mythological character of Oedipus 
      • kills father (Laius) 
      • marries mother (Jocasta) 
      • doesn’t know they’re his parents

    • Freud’s belief: 
      • unconscious sexual desire of child for opposite-sex parent 
      • this stage of childhood must be overcome successfully: child must identify with same-sex parent 
      • if stage not successfully overcome: leads to neurosis, pedophilia, homosexuality

My Oedipus Complex: Questions 

1) Describe the father-son relationship.

2) What is the mother's role in the story?

3) How does O'Connor build up the plot?

4) How does the author use point of view to his advantage? (ie how does the point of view help the overall effect of the story?)

5) What message do you think O'Connor wants to send out to the reader through this story?

6) Why is the choice of title a good one?

All I know from my own experience is that the more loss we feel the more grateful we should be for whatever it was we had to lose. It means that we had something worth grieving for. The ones I'm sorry for are the ones that go through life not knowing what grief is.

Frank O'Connor

(1969) “A Set of Variations: Twenty-seven Stories”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Hot Off The Press

B2 Sample Writing 16 (Transactional Letter / Email - Summer Language School)

  The following sample letter has been written so that exam candidates for a B2 level English examination (FCE now called First for School...

And Now For Something Completely Different ...