Trevor’s Parental Preservation. The importance of parent-child relationships in the short fiction of William Trevor

Essay, 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 70


Trevor’s Parental Preservation: The importance of parent-child relationships in the short fiction of William Trevor

William Trevor’s acclaimed short fiction is deeply concerned with the social dynamic of rural Ireland. He describes an Ireland that Stinson notes, is heavily laden “with an oppressive atmosphere” (Stinson 19). Such an evocation, when considered alongside Trevor’s focus on familial social ties, suggests that the oppressive climate in Ireland is grounded in family relationships that are characterised by notions of inheritance and legacy. This reveals how Trevor’s imagined parent-child relationships serve as valuable literary devices contributing to an overall portrayal of a culturally stagnant Ireland. In this paper, I will firstly show how Trevor links societal oppression to his characters’ misguided loyalties to outdated social frameworks and conventions. This loyalty is depicted by Trevor, as passed down from parent to child, in a society in which parents control every aspect of their children’s lives. Parents are depicted by Trevor as constantly encouraging their children to adhere to their own outdated social traditions. It is this that elucidates the importance of parent-child relationships in Trevor’s stories. The relationships themselves perform as the vehicles through which social oppressiveness and entrapment is sustained in rural Irish society, themes not only central to Trevor’s work but the whole canon of Irish short fiction with which Trevor is in discourse. I will also look at briefly, the child-parent relationship from the psychoanalytical perspective of Freud, describing how through parental encouragement of their children to internalize their values, they initiate a psychological regression in their child. I will further argue that this regression to immaturity mirrors the repetitive and repressive social cycle that is further depicted by Trevor. He seems to be suggesting that rural Ireland is mired in a debilitating timelessness which is consolidated by the reoccurring motifs of children characters being killed. This leads to a lasting impression of a stagnant and deteriorating nation, that is reflected in its characters as a result of influential parental relationships.

Paulson observes how Trevor’s stories often explore “conflicts between the generations” (Paulson 29). It seems that Trevor’s parent-child relationships are the site of this exploration. He uses the relationships as a generational battlefield in his depiction of the clash of modernity and traditional social values embodied by his parent characters. Trevor’s Ireland is one in which tradition constantly triumphs over the young generation due to parental influence. This lends itself to an evocation of eternality in Trevor’s stories. This all takes place due to the huge influence and power Trevor’s parents wield over their sons and daughters.

Trevor‘s stories such as ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, ‘Teresa’s Wedding’ and ‘Kathleen’s Field,’ depict patriarchal rural families led by dominant father characters. They are authoritarian figures “who wield their power over both their sensitive sons [...] and their daughters” (Paulson 31). Meanwhile, whatever little part the mothers play in the lives of their children serves only to consolidate the intentions of the father figure. Trevor frequently depicts wives and mothers adhering to, and supporting, the intentions of the husband or father character, intentions that are predominantly concerned with the inculcating of outdated social values in their children. Examples of wives acting in supporting roles to their husbands can be seen in Mrs. Dwyer in ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, who is waiting for her husband “with the evening’s takings, sitting in the front of their car”; in Kathleen’s mother in ‘Kathleen’s Field’ who Trevor describes as “sympathetic, but even so she shook her head” when her daughter expresses wishes to contradict her father’s wishes; and in the mothers of the bride and groom in ‘Teresa’s Wedding’ who encourage the union arranged by their husbands and Father Hogan (Trevor, Collected, 203, 1256, 432). This is why, Paulson argues, Trevor’s wife and mother characters act merely as “accomplices” to the father’s coercion of child characters (Paulson 29). They, therefore, like their husbands “discourage the independent development of their sons and daughters” which shows exactly how parent-child relationships for Trevor are used in creating an oppressive and repressive Ireland while simultaneously preserving their traditional social values (Paulson 29).

As part of this intergenerational conflict, Trevor depicts parent characters constantly attempting to pass on their habits, values and even possessions to the generation that succeeds them. Trevor’s short fiction depicts his parents preparing their child not only to inherit their land and profession but their very way of life. It seems at times that they want their children to literally transform into replicas of themselves. This suggests an innate self-consciousness and anxiety in the parent’s psyches about succession that influences the way they treat their children. They seem to want to extend their expiration date by having their customs and social codes assimilated by their children. Aligned with this, Paulson describes how Trevor’s parents often use “the child to extend his or her will in time” as their respective parent’s “double” (Paulson 29). This is inherently oppressive as there is an absence in society, psychologically in the family context, in which a child can develop into their own person. This entrapment lends itself to the “atmosphere of oppression” in Trevor’s Ireland, consistently evoked through parent-child relations (Stinson 19).

Parents in Trevor’s short fiction are symbolically attempting to extend their way of life in two main ways. Firstly, Trevor depicts parents grooming their child into ideal inheritors of not only their land and job but their lives. Parents condition their children to internalize their values, a process that evokes a regression to the phallic stage of psychosexual development. In psychoanalytic theory, Freud posits that in the phallic stage of psychosexual development, children identify with and internalize their same-sex parent. “During the phallic stage when the child identifies with a parent, they internalize their values and morals” (Scannapieco 101). This subsequently leads, according to Freud, to the widely discussed Oedipal complex and its incestuous connotations. However, in Trevor’s stories, this parental encouragement of the internalization of values functions to turn their children into a symbolic extension of themselves and their values. This further suggests the repressive atmosphere of Trevor’s Ireland. Not only are the choices of his children characters repressed by their parents through coerced assimilation of their own, but the children characters’ psychological development is further repressed as they are forced to regress to the immature phallic stage of psychosexual development. Paulson notes how the child usually subjected to this process in Trevor’s stories, the inheritor child, is usually “the one child most resembling the progenitor” (Paulson 29).

This can be seen in ‘Teresa’s Wedding.’ The story depicts Artie the groom’s marriage to Teresa. He embodies the child character who is being manipulated to become his father by internalizing his values and customs. Artie, works in Driscoll’s pub. Teresa notes how Artie “always added up the figures twice when he was serving you in Driscoll's” (Trevor, Collected, 435). The fact that Artie works in a bar suggests an internalisation of his father’s habits in the form of his father’s association with alcohol and tendency to frequent pubs. This is evident in Trevor’s description of how Artie and Teresa’s fathers wish to “spend the remainder of the day in Swanton’s lounge-bar, celebrating in their particular way the union of their children” (Trevor, Collected, 436). Such a development is an indicator of a symbolic return to the oedipal stage of psychosexual development, encouraged it seems, by his father.

Furthermore, during the phallic stage, Siegfried tells us that the ‘Id’, “the unorganized part of the psyche that contains a human’s instinctual drives,” controls an individual’s actions (Siegfried 1). In the story, Artie exhibits a lack of control that has many parallels with the Freudian phallic stage that solidifies the psychological regression enforced by Trevor’s parents. After the wedding, Artie accidently blurts out an unintended offensive question to his bride that alludes to one of Teresa’s previous sexual encounters. “Did Screw Doyle take you into a field, Teresa?” he asks (Trevor, Collected, 437). In this scene, it is clear that he cannot control his urges. He regrets the question instantaneously and apologies profusely. “He hadn't meant to say it then [...] He knew it was wrong even before the words came out” (Trevor, Collected, 437). This, on top of the fact that Artie has seemingly internalized his father’s relationship with alcohol suggests that indeed Artie has regressed to a phallic stage. The motif of a son regressing to a psychological state that involves the blind internalization of their father is further evident in ‘Kathleen’s Field,’ and ‘The Dressmaker’s Child,’ stories that I shall explore in depth later on.

The second way Trevor depicts parents attempting to extend their influence on the world is by ingraining traditional social codes and moral values in their children. This is especially clear in the near obsessive compulsions to get married that children characters exhibit, having been conditioned by their parents. Parents appear to want their children to have children of their own, thus continuing their way of life, however, only when it is done in the then socially accepted way, i.e. after marriage. Trevor depicts his father characters frequently attempting to marry off their children regardless of the suitability of the match or the affection between the pairing. Paulson notes a pervading “fear of spinsterhood” in Trevor’s stories that coincides with this (Paulson 66). Parent characters seem to discourage spinsterhood and bachelorhood in their children. To remain single or be single parents extends neither their way of life nor adheres to traditional social convention.

‘The Ballroom of Romance,’ depicts such an account of parental marital encouragement. In the story, Trevor depicts a family situation in which Bridie, a thirty-six-year-old woman is “tied up to a one-legged man” – her father (Trevor, Collected, 190). They live seemingly in isolation away from the town. It seems however that he is just as tied up to her as she is to him. Bridie is her father’s link to life and in fact he notes how he’d “be dead without the girl” (Trevor, Collected, 190). On a more symbolic level, the survival of his way of life is also dependent on Bridie and this is why he encourages her to marry. This act would be suggestive of a preservation of both his and his generation’s routines, conventions and traditions, given that he himself was once married. This is why he encourages her to go the ‘Ballroom of Romance’ every week to mingle with the “bachelors of the hills”, who are similarly “released from their mammies” (Trevor, Collected, 194, 197). Trevor describes how in “different dresses she cycled to the dance-hall, encouraged to make the journey by her father” (Trevor, Collected 190).

At the dancehall, Bridie appropriately imagines the man she hopes to marry taking up her father’s routines and habits. Bridie pictures Dano “sitting in the farmhouse kitchen, reading one of her father's Wild West novels [...] leaving the kitchen in the morning to go out to the fields [...][with] her father hobbling off behind him, and the two men working together” (Trevor, Collected, 198). The male parent and prospective husband become merged, almost. This is suggestive of how the marriage that Bridie’s father encourages will extend his way of life through the preservation of his habits, of the distinct male and female roles in a household and the safeguarding of his property. It is ingrained in her that “you couldn’t leave them to rot, you had to honour your father and mother” (Trevor, Collected, 202). In honouring her father by taking on board his encouragement to attend the dancehall, she herself appears to be rotting, trapped in a cyclical timeless Ireland. In this way, Trevor uses a depiction and exploration of parent-child relations to sustain consistent notions of oppression and cyclical history in his stories.

Bridie is so conditioned by her father that she looks forward to being similarly controlled by a husband. She daydreams about when she was sixteen and hoped that Patrick Grady “would lead her into sunshine, to the town and the church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, to marriage and smiling faces” (Trevor, Collected, 196). This shows both how she has been conditioned to dream of the social convention of marriage and a conditioned belief that she needs a replacement controlling male after the eventual demise of her father. The “male privileging” and “patriarchal dividend” that Pat O’Connor argues exists in Irish society seems certainly to be present in Trevor’s Ireland (O'Connor 82). This refers to certain societal advantages that benefit and are preserved by men. Trevor seems to be suggesting in his stories, that in his imagined rural Ireland, there is additional preserved male privilege of being able to control one’s children, especially daughters. The submissiveness and weakness of daughter characters is further evoked in ‘Miss Smith’ when a young boy asks his gardener about how to hurt people. The gardener immediately thinks of his daughter, perceiving her as a “weak spot” (Trevor, Collected, 136). “My little daughter’s smaller than you. If you hurt her, you see, you’d be hurting me” (Trevor, Collected, 136). For Trevor, women and especially daughters are depicted as entirely passive and weak. Trevor therefore uses parent-child relations to evoke further how embedded is the oppression of women in rural Ireland.

In another story, ‘Teresa’s Wedding,’ Trevor depicts two fathers who have successfully encouraged their children to marry despite their lack of affection for their spouse. The groom’s father encourages his son Artie to marry Teresa without any romantic notions of love. “Sure, you might as well marry Teresa as anyone else” (Trevor, Collected, 435). The father, like Bridie’s before him, appears to want his son to conform to the societal expectation of marriage. Artie does not love Teresa who is “a month and a half pregnant” with another man’s child (Trevor, Collected, 431). Similarly, Teresa describes how “she didn't love [Artie] or feel anything for him one way or another” (Trevor, Collected, 435). She describes how there was “nothing special about Artie Cornish” (Trevor, Collected, 435). In ‘Teresa’s Wedding’ Trevor further depicts three sisters all admitting to imagining their weddings with a groom who “had been mysterious, some faceless, bodiless presence” (Trevor, Collected, 435). They are destined to have weddings, however, the unimportance of the identity of the groom is ingrained in their very psyches. Such disaffection for a potential spouse is repeated in ‘The Ballroom of Romance.’ Bridie reveals at the end of the story her intention to marry Bowser, a drunkard and a spendthrift, “because she would be lonesome being by herself in the farmhouse” (Trevor, Collected, 204). This suggests that in Trevor’s Ireland more value is placed “on the fact of being married than on the importance of marriage based on love” (Paulson 62). This aligns with the traditional social convention of rural Ireland passed down by Trevor’s parent characters.

Furthermore, in ‘Teresa’s Wedding,’ It appears that Teresa is manipulated and coerced into the union because she is pregnant. This again symbolises attempts to preserve further traditional social and moral codes as in traditional Catholic rural Ireland, it is extremely frowned upon for a woman to give birth to a child out of wedlock. James Smith's The Women of the Gael gives an account of this societal disapproval. “In Ireland whenever a child is born out of wedlock, so shocked is the public sense by the unusual occurrence, that it brands with an irreparable stigma, and, to a large extent, excommunicates the woman guilty of the crime” (Ferriter 203). Such stigma seems to be emphasised by Trevor. Writing after a whole host of internationally recognised Irish short fiction writers, it is unsurprising that elements of their work bleed into Trevor’s. Attitudes and wishes to conform to social expectations and avoid becoming the subject of gossip are notions that Trevor’s predecessors dealt with in depth. Here, the wish of Teresa’s parents to avoid public outrage evokes similar tendencies shown by characters in Mary Lavin’s stories such as ‘The Widow’s Son,’ ‘The Will’ and ‘Sarah’. Such an avoidance of social condemnation aligns with the attempted parental preservation of traditional social values in ‘Teresa’s Wedding’. This is again another example of how parent-child relations are used by Trevor as a literary tool to depict rural Ireland attempting to avoid a disruption of its social codes and values and to avoid at all costs becoming an outsider.

Aside from the approving act of attending the wedding, Trevor actually depicts the mothers of the bride and groom, “Mrs Atty and Mrs Cornish politely agree[ing]” with Father Hogan that a wedding day is indeed a good day for a mother (Trevor, Collected, 432). Furthermore, it actually transpires that Father Hogan himself, symbolising a type of parochial parent figure, plays a major role in the arrangement of the wedding. “It was Father Hogan who had persuaded Artie of his duty when Artie had hesitated" (Trevor, Collected, 433). As a supplementary parent who wishes to preserve tradition, it comes as no surprise that Father Hogan is extremely pleased with the proceedings of the day. He repeats to the parents of the bride and groom that the occasion is “great day for a father” and “a great day for a mother” (Trevor, Collected, 434,432).

The character of Father Hogan serves again to suggest the literary influence of Trevor’s Irish short fiction writing predecessors. For example, one critic describes how James Joyce’s Dubliners depicts the Catholic church as one of the “tyrannies that kept the heart prisoner [...] which, through its ministers, imposed a rigid sexual morality" (Daniels 44). Father Hogan, in his arrangement of marriage of the pregnant Teresa, seems to be imposing at least the appearance of a rigid catholic sexual morality on his parish. In Teresa and Artie’s loveless union, it appears that just as for Joyce, the Church is entrapping the affections of the heart once again. This entrapment again evokes the oppressive atmosphere that pervades Trevor’s work, this time it seems primarily created by the proxy authoritarian parent of Father Hogan.

Furthermore, Swanton’s, the venue of Teresa’s wedding, seems to be frequented very often by the fathers of the newly married couple. Trevor depicts a certain “unease” about them that is caused by their being in Swanton’s on a Saturday “with women present” (Trevor, Collected, 430). It is unsurprising that the wedding event of, symbolising social convention and tradition, is being celebrated in a bar that is routinely and conventionally frequented by Trevor’s father characters. They are celebrating the social convention they have enforced through what is effectively another example of convention or tradition – frequenting their local pub. Tellingly, this metaphor of place is their local bar and not Artie’s workplace, for example. This again solidifies the role of the parent as the dominant figure of Trevor’s families in their ceaseless quest for preservation.

As I have outlined thus far, Trevor’s world is one in which it is a parent’s job to have their child conform to social traditions and conventions. However, this entails that should a child diverge from tradition, the parent has failed. Trevor in ‘Miss Smith’ depicts parents who blame themselves for their child’s independence that symbolise a deviation from social norms. In ‘Miss Smith’ the Smith child does not display signs that he is internalising the values or habits of his parents. This is why Miss Smith feels “confused and sick and miserable” (Trevor, Collected, 137). Trevor describes how the child “trotted nimbly beside [Miss Smith], he spoke his own language, he was wayward and irresponsible” (Trevor, Collected, 138). Furthermore, Trevor goes on to describes how the child has an “aptitude for athletics” despite his parents being “so unathletic in their ways” (Trevor, Collected, 138). The Smith child’s independence is a symbol of the new generation fighting back against the cyclical social framework of rural Ireland. However, because of this, the Smith parents become deeply unhappy. “Am I then incapable? Am I so wretched and stupid that I cannot look after my own child?” Miss Smith exclaims (Trevor, Collected, 137). Meanwhile, her husband is described as “unhappy and confused in his mind” (Trevor, Collected, 140). Married and with child, they represent a traditional Ireland. However due to their child’s symbolic rejection of their values, they deteriorate. This is one generational battle in which Trevor depicts children characters rebuffing the traditions of their parents. However, at the end of the story Trevor leads the reader to believe that the child has been killed. The killing of this deviating child further consolidates the fact that there is no room in rural Ireland for newness and difference.

Despite this exception, Trevor time and time again depicts characters following in their parent’s footsteps in almost every way. They are led by the hand into marriage, into employment and into very particular traditional modes of life. One of his stories which this is most clear in is ‘The Dressmaker’s Child’. The story depicts Cahal, the epitome of a child-inheritor character, being conditioned by his father to internalize his values. Trevor describes how Cahal has been kept around the garage, the workplace of his father, since he was a child. “The garage was all he knew, having kept his father company there since childhood” (Trevor, Dressmaker, 1). Trevor describes how Cahal is the “only son in a family of girls, all of them older” and “all of them gone from the town” (Trevor, Dressmaker, 1). Being the child that most resembles his father, he is a perfect example of a child being moulded into his father’s “double”, thus symbolically extending the values of his father’s generation (Paulson 29). Cahal’s replacement of his father is foreshadowed early on in the story as Trevor describes “his father had help then, an old man who was related to the family, whose place Cahal eventually took” (Trevor, Dressmaker, 2). Following on from this, Cahal will eventually take the place of another family member – his father. It is significant to note that this cycle of family members all takes place in the same setting of Cahal’s father’s garage. The garage represents a microcosm of Trevor’s wider rural Ireland depicted in his stories, a society in which there appears to be a reoccurring and predetermined social cycle in which characters merely step into the roles vacated by their family members.

Parental rejection of modernity and newness also reoccurs in ‘The Dressmaker’s Child’. Trevor describes at the beginning of the story how “Cahal’s father shook his head as if he doubted his son, which he often did and usually with reason” (Trevor, Dressmaker, 5). In the eyes of his father, Cahal and the values of the upcoming generation he represents, hold no credibility whatsoever. Cahal’s father instead ingrains his own outdated codes and values in his son, a trope repeated in many of Trevor’s stories. A clear example of this is Cahal’s assimilation of his father’s taste in music as he is depicted changing the radio station to “music of his father’s time” (Trevor, Dressmaker, 1). Suggestions that this assimilation is a parentally coerced one litter the story. Cahal’s father appears to be an archetypal authoritarian father figure, a character that is also depicted in ‘Teresa's Wedding’ and ‘Kathleen’s Field.’ Trevor depicts him ordering Cahal about in the garage. “’Will you turn that stuff off?’ Cahal's father shouted from under the car he was working on” ordering Cahal to turn the radio off (Trevor, Dressmaker, 1). Cahal is slowly being coerced to conform to social norms of his father’s era. This shows how Trevor uses parent-child relationships as a vehicle for the intergenerational and cultural assault that concerns Trevor’s short fiction.

Delaney describes how “partial illumination is a staple feature of Trevor's work” (Delaney 180). Meanwhile Trevor himself discusses how the short story ought to withhold information “novels tell all. Short stories tell as little as they dare” he muses (Trevor, Book World, 1). It is therefore not excessively presumptuous to assume that Cahal’s father has encouraged his son to find a wife like Trevor’s other father characters – just as he has influenced his music taste and encouraged him to become a mechanic. Trevor depicts Cahal “think[ing] about marrying Minnie Fennelly” on several occasions (Trevor, Dressmaker, 14). In a parent-child relationship seemingly controlled by Cahal’s father, it is likely that he has internalized such notions from his dominant parent.

‘The Dressmaker’s Child’ further explores the social consequences of not adhering to social convention. The dressmaker, being an unmarried mother, does not fit into the socially approved framework of her community. She has a child out of wedlock and her father, who one would have presumably encouraged her to marry, is dead. Due to her deviation from the social norms she is rejected by her community. This evokes the same symbolic societal rejection of the Smith’s child that I have already discussed in ‘Miss Smith’. In Trevor’s traditional Ireland such a ‘modern’ family arrangement is unacceptable. Mahony describes how “modernisation” led to the “emergence of the phenomenon of the single female headed family” (Mahony 13). This being the case, it is easy to see how the depicted societal assault and rejection of the dressmaker and her child is suggestive of an assault on the emergence of a more modern way of life. The dressmaker is especially criticised by Cahal’s father who is of the dressmaker’s own father’s generation. He replaces her own dead father in voicing generational criticism of the dressmaker. He vehemently questions “did she ever lift a finger to tend that child?” (Trevor, Collected, 17). Just as he has doubted his son’s credibility, he appears to be doubting how a single female-headed family can function. This is an example of parental disappointment due to both the socially unacceptable position of the dressmaker and the lack of the preservation of the tradition of marriage and the traditional family status quo.

A further example of a dominant parent bestowing their values and routines on to their children partly through the inheritance of property, is depicted in ‘Kathleen’s Field’. One critic describes ‘Kathleen’s Field’ as a “vivid and painful portrait of feminine vulnerability and parental narcissism” (Paulson 72). This is in reference to Kathleen being forced by her father Hagerty into a life of “servitude and spinsterhood” (Paulson 57). However, it is the intentions behind this daughterly mistreatment that prove most relevant to this paper. In the story, Hagerty offers up the services of one of his daughters in order to attain a loan to expand his farm. The opening lines of the story in fact describe Hagerty expressing how he is “after a field of land” (Trevor, Collected, 1245). It is his intention that his son will inherit his farm. The primary motive of Hagerty is to symbolically extend his own way of life on the farm which he “had once been barefoot on” (Trevor, Collected, 1246). It appears that he has identified his son as a means of doing so. This is a clear sign that the father wants to preserve and extend a way of life that is at odds with any notions of modernity and change. Trevor describes how it is Hagerty’s plan is for his son to marry and reside on his farm. “Sooner or later he would want to marry the McKrill girl, and there’d always have to be a home for Biddy on the farm, and for a while at least an elderly mother and father” (Trevor, Collected, 1246). This explains why “establishing his son’s financial security is the father’s goal” (Paulson 72). In securing his son’s future he is securing his own because his son represents a “double” of his father (Paulson 29). There is a clear line of progression here. His son will inherit his land and his house and will look after his daughter Biddy when he and his wife die.

Just like Cahal’s father in ‘The Dressmaker’s Child’, most of Hagerty’s children have emigrated, “seven of [Hagerty’s] ten” in fact (Trevor, Collected, 1246). This represents a total upheaval of tradition that is unacceptable to Trevor’s parent characters. It is for this reason that the fathers in both stories have decisively identified their heirs and have groomed them and kept them close. Paulson writes that in Trevor’s Ireland, “the disheartened, less favoured child is likely to be more individualistic, thus more threatening to the parents” (Paulson 32). Kathleen, the ostracized daughter, embodies this less favoured child. Her identity appears stripped from her. She is given the new name of Kitty. “I’d rather call you Kitty,’ Mrs Shaughnessy said, ‘if you wouldn’t object. The last girl was Kitty and so was another we had’” (Trevor, Collected, 1251). Immediately after this in the story, Trevor describes how Hagerty tells his daughter, “I was never best pleased with you” (Trevor, Collected, 1251). Due to the securing of his line of succession, with his son’s financial security, it seems any sort of legacy that Kathleen might have preserved is unimportant. He can forget about arranging a marriage for Kathleen.

Kathleen’s identity change symbolises a type of death and as a symbol of the new generation, albeit a repressed one, this is highly suggestive. The motif of the destruction of Trevor’s children characters is returned to again and again by Trevor as he depicts the quelling of progression and modernity in rural Ireland. In Trevor’s stories, children die as their parents live on. This takes place in ‘Miss Smith’, ‘The Dressmaker’s Child’ and metaphorically, as I have outlined, in ‘Kathleen’s Field’. Trevor’s preservation of his parent characters, in contrast to the demise of their younger counterparts, is suggestive of the dominance of Trevor’s older generation and their way of life that includes social and family codes, habits, rituals and property. Furthermore, in ‘Miss Smith’, Trevor depicts the Smith child constantly falling into precarious, life threatening situations while under the care of his mother. Because of this the father then subsequently thinks that “consciously or otherwise [Miss Smith] was trying to kill their child” (Trevor, Collected, 139). This paranoia is not surprising in Trevor’s stories, as all his parent characters are symbolically and psychologically indeed attempting to do just that.

In depicting Ireland’s new generation displaying a total loyalty to the past, through the vehicle of parent-child relationships, Trevor is critiquing Irish rural society. He does not suggest that this cyclical social framework is healthy for either Ireland or its inhabitants. In ‘The Ballroom of Romance,’ he depicts a youth chatting to Bridie in the dancehall. The youth tells Bridie that with “the nation in his opinion being finished,” he is planning on emigrating from Ireland (Trevor, Collected, 193). This appears to echo Trevor’s warning of the deterioration of Ireland in his stories. Many of the attendees at the dancehall display such physical signs of deterioration that seem to align with the deterioration of their homeland. Dano develops “a watering of the eyes that must have been some kind of cold,” while the protagonist in ‘Miss Smith,’ has eyes that “were dead and seemed to have fallen back deeper into her skull” (Trevor, Collected, 192, 141). In ‘Sitting with the Dead,’ two nuns attempt to comfort a newly widowed woman who herself has lived a conventional life according to tradition. On their return home one of the sisters notes to the other, “I’d say, myself, it was the dead we were sitting with” (Trevor, Bit on the Side, 17). Therefore, in his short fiction, Trevor seems to be diagnosing the nation of Ireland as “finished”, filled with inhabitants who appear more dead than alive. This diagnosis would not have been possible without the use of the literary tool of parent-child relationships, which are the means that sustain Ireland and its inhabitants’ zombified state.

The importance of parent-child relationships is seen in two main ways. Firstly, Trevor uses such family liaisons to explore a generational clash throughout his stories. He depicts parents coercing their children into extending their way of life by continuing their habits, routines and family values, by passing on their property thus entrapping the children and repopulating the land through marriage. This serves to inhibit the development of a modern way of life in rural Ireland. Trevor depicts a society that asserts marriage as the only acceptable option available to the new generation of rural Ireland. This explains Trevor’s frequent depictions of loveless marriages that are arranged and encouraged by parent figures. Furthermore, Trevor depicts an Irish society that condemns extramarital parenthood as seen in ‘Teresa’s Wedding’ and ‘The Dressmaker’s Child,’ a further illustration of parental bestowment of traditional social values. Secondly, Trevor uses parent-child relationships in his stories to emphasise the oppressive nature of Ireland. In this parental-authoritarian context, in which one’s life and values are predetermined, individuality appears non-existent. Trevor’s repeated characterisation of both child and parent characters consolidates this. Trevor’s Ireland is disturbingly cyclical. This depiction not only causes his characters to deteriorate and frequently self-destruct, but evokes notions that rural Ireland itself is doomed to stagnation. It appears that, like the emigrating youth in ‘The Ballroom of Romance,’ under Trevor’s microscope, Ireland is a nation ‘finished’.


Clark, Miriam Marty. “The Scenic Self in William Trevor's Stories.” Narrative, vol. 6, no. 2, 1998, pp. 174–187.

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Lapsley, Daniel K., Stey. Paul C. “Id, Ego, and Superego.” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 2nd ed. Elsevier, 2011, pp. 1-9.

Mahony, Pat, and Christine Zmroczek. Women and Social Class: International Feminist Perspectives. Routledge, 2004.

Siegfried, William. “The Formation and Structure of the Human Psyche Id, Ego, and Super-Ego – The Dynamic (Libidinal) and Static Unconsciousness, Sublimation, and the Social Dimension of Identity Formation.” Athene Noctua: Undergraduate Philosophy Journal, issue no.2, 2014.

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Trevor’s Parental Preservation. The importance of parent-child relationships in the short fiction of William Trevor
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william trevor, parent, child, history, cycle, irish short fiction, short fiction, ballroom of romance, ireland, generational, generation, freud, internalization, The Dressmaker’s Child, deterioration, nationhood, oppression, repression
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- It only takes five minutes
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