Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Frank O'Connor's First Confession

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‘Lest Ye Be Judged

Often in society, individuals feel it is appropriate to judge others before they are judged themselves. Frank O’Connor’s First Confession display’s the horror of a young boy’s initial acknowledgment of his sins. The main character, Jackie, must confess to what he believes are mortal sins to a priest, and he is certain he will be met with a dire fate. The reality of this situation is that Jackie is much more innocent than those who tell him he is sinful. His sister and grandmother are portrayed as devils in Jackie’s view. He is juxtaposed with the author’s own history, and these parallels can be seen between the two.

Frank OConnor grew up in Ireland in the 100s. His family was poor and his father an alcoholic who often sold the familys possessions for drinking money. OConnor had a very close relationship with his mother, and much like Jackie, he saw his mother as the only protector in his life. Jackie was also very close with his mother, she being the only one that stuck up for him in his family. OConnors drunken father is reflected in Jackies attitude when he observes his grandmother drinking porter. Jackie sees this as sinful, though in the adult world this would not likely be much of a crime. Jackie feels he is trapped between his Grandmother and his sister Nora, who enjoys tormenting him. Nora is like many other older children, loving to torment and humiliate their younger siblings. She knows Jackie’s unease about confession, and uses this opportunity to inspire fear in him. Jackie is so fearful about confessing, that he parallels the view from outside the church with Adam’s last glimpse of paradise. “Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” [Genesis ] Jackie believes he will never return to his home, and that this confession is the end of the world for him. It is Jackie’s innocence that permits his sister to manipulate him.

Nora believes that she is ‘holier than thou’, in the sense that she has never committed a sin, nor does she have to confess to the priest. This is emphasized when Nora goes to make her confession. “…and then [Nora’s] voice as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth…” [pp0]. O’Connor uses this comparison to demonstrate how much Jackie believes the completeness of Nora’s confession. Nora is very hypocritical in her treatment of Jackie. Nora tells him that if he doesn’t confess all of his sins that he will come back as a ghost to burn hand marks into people’s furniture. It is ironic that she tells Jackie this, because she herself committed a bad confession. Nora torments Jackie “with a devilish malice all the way from [their] door,” [pp0] and with the short confession that she gives to the priest, it is unlikely that she confessed any of this. Jackie’s fear of confessing to his sins is alleviated when he goes to the confessional.

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The priest is very kind to Jackie, helping him to understand that his actions are not evil, and that everyone has people they dislike. The priest tells him, “Someone will go for [Nora] with a bread knife one day, and he won’t miss her.” Jackie doesn’t understand this, but the priest is ultimately telling him that it is not his place to judge or punish Nora for her sins, but god’s place. Jackie learns that when going to confession, he is not being judged, but absolved of his sins. The priest also tells him that he has seen many men die hanging, and they all died roaring. This indirectly reveals to Jackie that he should rethink his plan to kill his grandmother. The priest gives Jackie three Hail Marys, which basically amounts to reciting this prayer three times. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” This is a prayer for other sinners, to help them absolve of their sins and become purer. It is symbolic that the priest gives Jackie this penance, as it is one of the lowest penance a priest can give. It is unlikely that an adult who confessed this plan to kill would be given such atonement. The priest could see through the act that Nora used when she was in the confessional, and was given appropriate penance. “’Three Hail Marys’, she [repeats] incredulously, ‘You mustn’t have told him anything.” Though Nora’s penance is not revealed in the story, her reaction tells the reader that she has received more than Jackie did. This is another indication that Jackie is uncorrupted in contrast to those surrounding him.

The point of view the author chose helps to promote this sense about Jackie. When mother was at work and my grandmother made the dinner I wouldn’t touch it. [pp 18] Jackie seems to be pulling the same kind of things that any normal child would, and refusing to eat is a classic example of this. Jackie doesn’t exactly view the situation as an unbiased observer might, but that of a child. This is meant to help the reader to view Jackie in an innocuous light. O’Connor uses situational irony to promote this sense of purity. For instance, the priest comments, Worse and worse. [...] The crimes of a lifetime. I dont know will I get rid of you at all today. [pp1], in reality the priest is quite lighthearted about Jackies crimes of a lifetime. Jackie is completely clueless about this and believes what the priest says. The overall innocence about him helps to contrast between Jackie and those around him.

First Confession displays the seemingly woeful life of a little boy bogged down by his sins, ironically more innocent than those who would judge him guilty. The author provides a convincing view of his character, developing the reader’s perspective of Jackie’s innocence. Frequently in the world, stereotypes and prejudice are cause for violence and war. It is common for people to prejudge others based on what they see, but it is rare to hear of one judging himself. Perhaps some problems would be solved if we looked at our own actions before those of others.



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