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'Father and Son' by Bernard McLaverty - short story review

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'Father and Son' by Bernard McLaverty is a short story which is set in a time of conflict and culminates in the death of one of the main characters. Through the author's skilful use of literary techniques, we know the outcome of this story is inevitably going to be tragic due to the nature of the characters he presents. The symbolic setting hints to the reader that conflict is going to be an important theme and the structure of the piece allows the reader to see the painful build up to the climactic end. The conflict is set within the city of Belfast. The setting itself has the connotation of division and violence and it is clear to the reader that there is good reason for choosing this setting: the story shows the effect of a violent society on a family. The sound of 'ambulances criss-crossing the city' shows that the characters are in the middle of violence and we are aware that this is likely to spill over into the household. Within the household itself, the hostility is continued. The lack of communication between the father and the son is one of the main reasons for the climatic ending. ...read more.


The father is only able to verbalise his concern in a reproachful manner. His son sees this as interference in his privacy and, in the stereotypical manner, replies with sharp retorts. Every word spoken between them further distances them. "'Why don't you tell me where you go?' 'Look, Da, I have not touched the stuff since I came back. Right?'" The son cannot see his father's need to talk and his care for him. He sees every word as a criticism. The father, in his turn, sees the harsh words spoken by his son as hurtful and responds with recrimination. "'I let you go once - and look what happened' 'Not this again'" The reader is aware from the outset that this conflict is unlikely to be resolved. There seems to be no way back for the father and son. Any time the father tries to speak to the son something comes up and he puts it off. He uses repetition to express his urges: 'I want you to talk to me...I want to hear you laugh...I want to know why you don't eat more...' However, something always comes up and he reassures himself 'at the weekend I will talk to him' or the discussion is interrupted by the son trying to change the subject. ...read more.


The frustration of the reader is intensified by the feeling of foreboding which is present from the earliest moments of the story. It is clear that though the father must speak to his son, he constantly puts off any real conversation or physical contact. The ending is the final resolution of the conflict, but in the most tragic way. The father is now able to put his arms around his son but only death has allowed this to happen. The father's reaction to his son's murder is typical - hoping for the best: 'They have punched you and you are not badly hurt' The imagery of 'the house is open to the night' is particularly effective at the end as we know that safety is found in daytime and we now realise that both of them were correct in trying to protect the son. The father's worst nightmare has occurred and there will be no further opportunity to speak to his son and sort out their relationship. Bernard McLaverty has effectively shown the effect of unresolved conflict within a family unit in his short story 'Father and Son'. We see the violent effect of a violent society and are taught about the possible effects of non-communication. His characters ably demonstrate the human reaction of conflict and the ultimate tragedy of the failure to embrace your emotions and communicate with people you love. ...read more.

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