'The Genius' by Frank O'Connor
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'The Genius' by Frank O'Connor The boy's personality and his intelligence are swiftly established in the opening paragraph. His mother is presented as being a strong influence on him and appears as a kind of 'ally' against the rough children - 'savages' as she describes them - that live and play in the area. It is clear that she encourages him to regard himself as 'different' and separate from them, but it is equally obvious that he is not anxious to associate with them anyway. He describes himself as "a cissy by conviction" and says that he regarded the idea of fighting as both unattractive and 'dangerous'. He avoids rough games and prefers the company of girls to boys only because "they don't fight so much". Religion seems to play an unusually important role in his life and it seems probable that this is a reflection of his close relationship with Miss Cooney. He himself uses "our Blessed Lord" as a kind of defence against bullies who might otherwise 'hammer' his head on the pavement. It is evident from the way he uses argument that he is unusually articulate for his age, and this is a reflection of both his natural intelligence and his strong preference for adult company.
This difference in attitudes is well illustrated when the boy's thoughts turn to the question of where babies come from. His mother, obviously embarrassed by his question becomes 'upset' and talks about "birds and flowers" so that the boy, who has long had a low opinion of his mother's store of knowledge, concludes that she does not know the answer to his question. Miss Cooney also lets him down, telling him he should keep his 'innocence', and it is ironic that it is his father's fanciful explanation about aeroplanes that he is most inclined to accept. On discovering that his father was "only joking", he is filled with childish rage. It is this reaction that finally prompts his mother to tell the boy the truth, though she expresses this 'truth' in terms that she hopes are appropriate to his age and understanding. There is further irony in the fact that it is this very issue that later causes the boy to feel that he has been made to look foolish in front of Una. The belief that his mother has supplied him with embarrassingly inaccurate information causes him to make enquiries at school. Here, a number of theories are advanced - including the idea that babies make their way to earth "by floating down on a snowflake" - but the boy concludes that Mrs Dwyer was probably right when she told Una that babies were purchased from the local nurse.
The most frequently anthologized stories are those about children-- "My Oedipus Complex," "The Drunkard," "My First Confes- sion"--which achieve the difficult end of seeing the world through a child's eyes without being childish. Such stories are amusing but, like children themselves, demand to be taken seriously. The moral of "My Oedipus Complex," for example, is the interesting one that "Of course the Oedipus Complex exists--and it is not such a bad thing." This corresponds not only to Pritchett's comment about the rightness of 'the glancing form of fiction...for the nervousness and restlessness of contemporary life', but also to Frank O'Connor's discussion of the short story in The Lonely Voice (1963). O'Connor compares the novel and the short story: whereas the novel can 'adhere to the classical concept of civilized society, of man as an animal who lives in a community...the short story remains by its very nature remote from the community - romantic, individualistic, and intransigent.' The relevance of aspects of this will echo through my discussion of a story by Tobias Wolff in the final section of my paper. For O'Connor, the short story is concerned with individuals who are marginalised, or who marginalise themselves: these individuals are 'outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society...As a result, there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in the novel - an intense awareness of human loneliness.'
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