The Drunkard

by

Frank O’Connor

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The Drunkard Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Frank O’Connor's The Drunkard. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Frank O’Connor

Frank O’Connor (pseudonym of Michael Francis O’Donovan) was born and raised in the Irish city of Cork, where he attended primary and secondary school. The only child of Michael and Minnie O’Donovan, O’Connor grew up in a tumultuous household. Michael O’Donovan Sr. was a former soldier whose severe alcoholism prevented him from holding down a job after leaving the army. Despite having bitter feelings towards his father, O’Connor had a close relationship with his mother, who cared for Frank and provided for the family by cleaning houses. O’Connor worked as a librarian before becoming a member of the Irish Republican Army in 1918, which resulted in his imprisonment between 1922 and 1923. Upon his release, O’Connor became somewhat of a Renaissance man. In addition to working as an Irish teacher and librarian, O’Connor served as a broadcaster for the Ministry of Information for the United Kingdom during World War II, as well as a member of the Abbey Theatre Board of Directors. After publishing several works, including his short story “Guests of the Nation” (1931), O’Connor began to earn fame as a writer. Following the separation from his first wife, Welsh actress Evelyn Bowen, O’Connor accepted American university teaching positions at Northwestern (where he met his second wife, Harriet Rich) and Harvard. While in the United States, O’Connor became known for his short stories, many of which were featured in The New Yorker. O’Connor returned to Ireland in 1961, prompted by a stroke he suffered while teaching at Stanford University. A year later, he was granted a Doctor of Letters from Trinity College, Dublin. Frank O’Connor continued to write until his death, dying from a heart attack in Dublin on March 10, 1966.
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Historical Context of The Drunkard

Unlike other stories by Frank O’Connor, in which early twentieth-century Irish history and politics play a significant and explicit role (“Guests of the Nation” being an obvious example), “The Drunkard” makes no reference whatsoever to specific historical events. Indeed, it is even unclear what decade the story takes place in. There are only a couple of unobtrusive hints that its setting is Cork: Larry mentions Blarney Lane, one of the town’s oldest streets, and another character mentions the “night and day robbers” in the “[Cork] Corporation” (city council), which was dissolved in 1924 following an inquiry that revealed evidence of nepotism and maladministration.     

Other Books Related to The Drunkard

Frank O’Connor once claimed that his single biggest literary influence was Isaac Babel, an early twentieth-century Russian writer and playwright whose short stories, like O’Connor’s, often feature child narrators. O’Connor was also influenced by major realist writers, such as Tolstoy and Flaubert. Larry Delaney, the narrator of “The Drunkard,” is Frank O’Connor’s literary alter ego, and he appears in various other O’Connor short stories, including “The Procession of Life” and “Daydreams.” The degree of explicitly autobiographical content varies in these stories, as does Larry’s age during the story’s events: he’s a young child in “The Drunkard,” but he’s in his late teens in “Daydreams.” The theme of problematic father-son relations is a recurring one in the Larry Delaney stories—it is at the heart of “My Oedipus Complex,” for example. Other works of fiction that prominently feature alcoholic fathers include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Russell Banks’ Affliction (1989). Small-town gossip, meanwhile, is a central theme of E.W. Howe’s The Story of a Country Town (1883) and William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” (1930).
Key Facts about The Drunkard
  • Full Title: The Drunkard
  • When Published: 1948
  • Literary Period: Twentieth-century Irish realism
  • Genre: Comic realism
  • Setting: Cork in the first quarter of the 20th century
  • Climax: A drunken Larry humiliates Mick in front of the townspeople
  • Antagonist: Alcoholism, Peter Crowley 
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Drunkard

Frank of all genres. Although Frank O’Connor is mostly renowned as a master of the realist short story, he was prolific in many other genres, producing two novels, two volumes of travel writing, various translations of Irish poetry, and a biography of the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, among numerous other works.   

…maidename for himself. “O’Connor” is actually the author’s mother’s maiden name, which he adopted as his literary pseudonym early on in his career to avoid being associated with his hard-drinking father.