The Story of Tom Brennan

by

J. C. Burke

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The Story of Tom Brennan: Chapter One Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At dinner, Gran asks who's going to say grace. Tom notes that this isn't truly a question, as she's staring at him. He begins, but Gran stops him to ask where Mum is. Kylie looks as though Gran is crazy, as Mum hasn't eaten at the table since Daniel left. Gran calls for Mum and Mum, too tired to fight, shuffles to the table. Tom resumes the prayer, repeating the words that Gran mouths to him—he thanks God for the food and for Australia (it's Australia Day), but he struggles to repeat her final prayer for Daniel. Tom keeps his eyes closed so he doesn't have to look at Mum and Dad struggling to maintain composure as Gran loudly asks God to forgive Daniel.
From Tom's observations, things are definitely out of whack with the Brennan family. Gran's insistence that Mum eat with them suggests that she's attempting to take control and create some sense of normalcy, though Mum's shuffling and the implication that her presence at dinner is a big deal implies that this may be a questionable endeavor. When Gran asks God to forgive Daniel, it indicates that Daniel has done something bad—and that likely accounts for his absence.
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Tom thinks of how Australia Day used to go down at his parents' place. They'd have a barbeque and Tom, Daniel, Kylie, and their cousin Fin would start a game of cricket while Dad grilled. In the afternoon, Matt, Snorter, Luke, and other friends would show up and the cricket game would become the loud event that made Australia Day at the Brennans' special. Tom thinks that all of that is in the past now; today, his family is at Gran's while all of her paintings of saints watch over them.
Tom's flashback to what Australia Day used to be like, and especially his assertion that it's all in the past now, suggests that something profound has changed in the last year. It suggests primarily that the Brennans are no longer an integral part of their old home, though they don't yet seem to be integrated in their new home either.
Themes
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Uncle Brendan attempts to carve the roast pork. The pork is so overcooked that he can barely get through it. Finally, at Gran's direction, Brendan passes the knife to Dad. Tom wonders how Brendan can stand living on the same property as Gran and wonders how hot it is. He's sweating enough to stick to his seat. Tom thinks that despite the horror of this Australia Day, Daniel would still give anything to be here.
The belief that Daniel would rather be here than wherever he is implies that wherever Daniel is, it's not good—though it's also worth keeping in mind that while this celebration certainly isn't fun, overcooked pork isn't exactly the end of the world. This suggests that Tom is especially emotional about whatever is going on.
Themes
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Debt and Redemption Theme Icon
A man's voice interrupts Tom's reverie, and Father Vincent walks into the dining room at Gran's invitation. Tom thinks that he's obviously only come for a meal and to stare at them, as he's sure Gran has told everyone about Daniel. Father Vincent introduces himself to Mum, who refuses to look at him, and then Gran invites him to eat with the family. He sits down next to Tom and attempts to engage Tom in conversation. Gran makes sure to note that Tom is repeating Year Eleven, while Kylie managed to keep up with her schoolwork. Gran also insists that Tom will absolutely join the Saint Benedict's rugby team and points out that Dad will be assistant coaching. She declares it'll be a fresh start for everyone.
From what Tom has said thus far, it's clear that whatever happened at the Brennan's old home affected every member of the family, not just Daniel. This begins to show that, per the logic of the novel, families are a cohesive unit that experience failure and success together, not as individuals. Tom's belief that Father Vincent is staring at them shows that Tom is carrying a fair amount of guilt and is self-conscious about whatever happened, given that there's no indication that Father Vincent is actually staring.
Themes
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Identity and Independence Theme Icon
Debt and Redemption Theme Icon
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Father Vincent asks Tom if he was the one responsible for leading his old school, St. John's, to the last three Wattle Shields. Dad hurriedly corrects him that they only won two, as they "missed out" last year. Father Vincent stammers and then shifts the conversation to St. Benedict's rugby in general. He mentions the coach, Michael Harvey, and lists several skilled players. Tom says nothing but thinks that the Bennie's team "couldn't catch a cold." When Father Vincent mentions a game that took place last July, Tom thinks that he can barely remember last July. He thinks that he hasn't yet decided if he wants to play rugby this year, as it won't be the same without Daniel.
Pay attention to Tom's derision when he talks about the Bennie's team in general. At this point, it shows that Tom has a warped sense of what team sports in general are about: winning, and winning only. His indecision about playing rugby because of Daniel's absence reinforces how close Tom is with his family and Daniel in particular. It suggests too that the brothers were bound together even more tightly by being part of a team with a common goal.
Themes
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Uncle Brendan reminds Tom that there's a game of touch rugby in the afternoon, which will give Tom a chance to meet his classmates before he starts school the next day. Tom agrees to go, though he regrets it almost immediately when Dad and Gran decide to watch and decide that Kylie has to go too. Gran turns to Mum and asks if she's coming, insisting that her silence isn't helping. Mum looks briefly at Tom with dull eyes and then leaves the room without touching any of her food. Brendan helps her out and tells Gran to leave her alone, though Gran continues to mutter.
The decision to attend the touch game suggests that Tom is willing to look for community in his new home, while his immediate regret indicates that he'd ideally like to do this separate from his family. Mum's silence and choice to leave the table like this is shows that she in particular is suffering with whatever's going on—and she's not being a supportive parent as a result.
Themes
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Gran exclaims that she prays to Saint Jude every day to make Mum's life more tolerable and then rants about Daniel. Finally, she gets up and begins snatching plates off the table. Kylie and Dad rush to pick up the dropped silverware. When Father Vincent gets up and offers to help Gran, Gran snaps at him that he can help her by praying for Mum, Dad, and especially Daniel. She storms out of the room, leaving everyone else in an awkward silence.
Gran's exclamations show that she leans heavily on religion to help her through these difficult times, a tendency that the rest of her family doesn't appear to share. This means that Gran is able to find relief and a sense of peace somewhere, while the rest of the family will need to look elsewhere in order to heal.
Themes
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