Analysis of Frank O'Connor's 'Guests of the Nation' and Philip MacCann's 'A Drive'

Term Paper, 2005

13 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Guests of the Nation
2.1. Theme of the short-story
2.2. How the story is told

3. A Drive
3.1. Theme of the Short Story
3.2. How the Story is told

4. A Comparison

5. Literature

1. Introduction

In the following essay the short stories “Guests of the Nation“ by Frank O’Connor and “A Drive” by Philip MacCann will be analysed and compared with regard to themes, the use of language, style, narrative voice and narrator characterization.

Frank O’Connor, the author of “Guests of the Nation” was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1903 as Michael O’Donovan. He was interned during the Civil War. O’Connor first published in 1920; his short-story “Guests of the Nation” was published in 1931 in a collection of short-stories of the same name. Frank O’Connor is widely regarded as one of the masters of realistic short-stories in the twentieth century. He is also one of the most important translators of Irish poetry into English. Apart from short stories he wrote novels, literary history, biography, drama, travel books and extensive socially critical journalism. O’Connor’s fiction often deals with war experiences, childhood or priesthood.[1]

Philip MacCann, who wrote the short-story “A Drive”, was born in Manchester, England, in 1966. He grew up in Dublin and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Angia. His first book “The Miracle Shed”, a collection of short-stories published in 1995, won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. In 1999 MacCann was named in the Observer newspaper’s list of “21 Writers for the Twenty-First-Century”. He is also a regular writer for magazines and newspapers including “The Guardian”, “Prospect” and “The Spectator”.[2]

2. Guests of the Nation

The short story „Guests of the Nation“ by Frank O’Connor is about two Englishmen, Hawkins and Belcher, who are held prisoner by a small group of rebels, somewhere in Ireland, during the Irish Rebellion.

Belcher is a big Englishman. He is a polite, quiet fellow, who helps the old woman do her chores. Hawkins however is very small and always willing to argue about anything. Belcher and Hawkins are living in an old lady’s house with two Irishmen, Noble and Bonaparte, who are supposed to keep an eye on them.

Bonaparte, the narrator, and his compatriot, Noble, become friends with the English soldiers. Jeremiah Donovan, the third Irishman, remains aloof from the others. He is the officer in charge of the small Irish group. One evening Jeremiah Donovan tells Bonaparte that the Englishmen are not being held as prisoners, but as hostages. He informs him that if the English kill any of their Irish prisoners, the Irish will order the execution of Hawkins and Belcher in revenge. Later Bonaparte tells Noble what Jeremiah had told him. They decide not to tell the Englishmen because they think it was unlikely that the English would shoot the Irish prisoners.

The next day there is a knock on the door. When Bonaparte opens and recognizes Jeremiah he knows what will happen next. While Noble and a few other men are digging a grave Bonaparte and Jeremiah are ordering the Englishmen to come.

Belcher and Hawkins cannot understand what is going on because they believe that a friend could never murder a friend. But then Jeremiah shoots. After both of them are killed the Irishmen bury them.

2.1. Theme of the short-story

The short-story Guests of the Nation” is set after the First World War (1914-1918) and in the war between England and Ireland that ended in 1921. English soldiers were sent to Ireland as prisoners.

In “Guests of the Nation” men from both sides of the fight are living together. They argue, play cards, discuss politics and religion and behave as if they were not part of the armed conflict that surrounds them. Then Feeney brings the news that the Irishmen have been ordered to execute the Englishmen. O’Connor points out that ideological differences are fleeting and relatively insignificant. Before Belcher gets killed he even says to Bonaparte: “You won’t come over to my side, so I’ll come over to your side. Is that fair?”[3] He is willing to change sides and give up his personal ideology.

The characters of the story have to cope with a difficult situation that is totally new for all of them. It is what one might call a frontier experience.

The story shows that people from different countries and with dissimilar views of life can be friends and can live together peacefully. But because in war everybody has to do his duty they cannot put their friendship first.

Duty is another theme of the story. Each character has a task to do. Jeremiah Donovan is the first to discuss his duty as the Irishmen are leading the prisoners to the bog. He tells them that “four of our lads [were] shot by your fellows so now you’re to be bumped off”[4]. Then he starts “the usual rigmarole about doing our duty and obeying our superiors”[5]. It becomes obvious that his view of duty is built on following to the orders of someone higher up in the chain of command. His interpretation of duty absolves him of any personal responsibility for his actions.

Hawkins’ attitude stands in contrast to Donovan’s. He says that he would never shoot a friend “not if [he] was shot twenty times over”[6].

Bonaparte and Noble have problems with doing their tasks although they know that they have to do their duty. They do not have the distance to the happenings that is necessary for carrying out orders. They all finally do what has been ordered although they find it hard. Noble actually shirks telling his friends that they will be executed so he digs their graves instead.

Before the executions the two English prisoners understand that the Irishmen are going to kill them if they fulfil their duty. They talk to the Irish rebels about disobeying their orders and about becoming one of theirs, but it is too late.

The short story “Guests of the Nation” also deals with responsibility. Noble shirks responsibility when he does not talk to his friends about the execution but digs there graves instead. On the other hand Bonaparte takes responsibility for Hawkins when he “give[s] ‘Awkins the last shot”[7] because he was not quite dead until then.

2.2. How the story is told

The reader is plunged straight into the world of Frank O’Connor’s story. On the first page of the story the reader gets all the information about the characters and about the situation they have to handle. It is explained why the Englishmen are staying with the Irishmen and how they became friends.

The story is told by a first person narrator, Bonaparte, who is involved in the action himself. So he has a subjective view on the events and he knows exactly what his inner feelings are. The reader finds out about the feelings and thoughts of the first-person narrator so that he does not have to make guesses about the thoughts of the protagonist.

The action is narrated in chronological order. There are no repetitions in the narration apart from one sentence that Belcher always said after the work was done. He always said:”Well chums what about it?”[8] and then they usually played cards together. That sentence implies that the men have spare time from that moment on.

“Guests of the Nation” is a plotted story. That means that the chronological order of the happenings is important for the conclusion. The reader has to know about the relationship and the circumstances to understand why it is so hard for the Irishmen to kill the English soldiers.

The structure of the story can be described with Gustav Freytag’s V shape[9]. It describes that stories usual start with an exposition before the conflict develops, and then the conflict comes to a climax before finally the conflict is resolved. In Frank O’Connor’s story the rising conflict starts when Bonaparte gets to know that the Englishmen are not prisoners but hostages that are supposed to be shot in case Irish soldiers should by shot by the English. The conflict arises from the fact that Bonaparte and Noble have to murder their friends. When both Englishmen are dead the conflict is resolved.

The short-story is written in the past tense since Bonaparte is looking back on a happening that is over. There is just one short passage where the narrator changes into the present tense. That is when Hawkins has just been shot and Belcher is supposed to be murdered. Belcher seems to be very calm and tells Bonaparte to shoot again at Hawkins because he was not quite dead . It was a difficult situation for Bonaparte, since he had to shoot Hawkins and had to prepare the murder of Belcher. He probably tells this part of the story in the present tense because it is still in his mind as if it just had happened.


[1] Lalor, Brian (General Editor), The Encyclopaedia of Ireland, Dublin 2003.

[2] British Council: Contemporary Writers.\authors (30.01.2005).

[3] P.427

[4] Frank O'Connor, The Lonely Voice, New York, 1968. Page 425.

[5] Ibidem. Page425

[6] Ibidem. Page 426

[7] Ibidem. Page 427

[8] Frank O'Connor, The Lonely Voice, New York, 1968. Page 419 and Page 424

[9] Miszor, Frank, The Modern Short Story, Cambridge,2001. Page 102.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Analysis of Frank O'Connor's 'Guests of the Nation' and Philip MacCann's 'A Drive'
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Analysis, Frank, Connor, Guests, Nation, Philip, MacCann, Drive
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Lenka Eiermann (Author), 2005, Analysis of Frank O'Connor's 'Guests of the Nation' and Philip MacCann's 'A Drive', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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