He reflects that the: "wonderful thing about porter was the way it made you stand aside, or rather float aloft like a cherub rolling on a cloud, and watch yourself with your legs crossed, leaning against a bar counter, not worrying about trifles but thinking deep, serious, grown-up thoughts about life and death." The disapproving comments of the "shawlies" or women watching the boy get sick voice the reader's likely feelings about the incident: "isn't it the likes of them would be fathers?"
The narrator's voice from then on, also by necessity, is more coherent than the interior voice of a tipsy child, but he still tries to convey the child's physical sense of discomfort, like the child's anger that he does not feel "grand" like his father assures him that he will after he is ill, or when his father's friends tell him he will feel right in a minute. "I never met two men who knew less about the effects of drink," the child thinks, attempting to give a sense to the reader of his profound physical discomfort and the child's interior monologue at the time.
The story would not be able to be told if it were entirely narrated in the boy's young perspective, given his condition. Also, the adult narrative tone of retrospective allows the author to paint a picture of how the town sees the drunkenness of the young boy. "They all stopped gabbling to gape at the strange spectacle of two sober, middle-aged men bringing home a drunken small boy with a cut over his eye...I began to sing a favorite song of Father's." The young boy would obviously not notice the reactions of the townspeople very much at the time. This also raises the likelihood that the adult narrator is taking some liberties in painting the picture of what transpired after he became drunk, or even that he has discussed at least some of what followed with his father.
However, he has clearly not discussed all of the emotional implications of the incident with his father. Even as an adult he admits he is uncertain of what his father felt -- fear, when he first saw the boy's condition, then safety as soon as possible, and away from the prying eyes of neighbors, yet also to explain the boy's singing, anger, and behavior. "Twill be all over the road," whimpered Father. "Never again, never again, not if I lived to be a thousand!' To this day I don't know whether he was forswearing me or the drink."
Here is the crucial phrase of the story: "To this day I don't know whether he was forswearing me or the drink." This is the punch line that makes the tale into a positive tale, about the father foreswearing drink, rather than a story about either the father's or his son's eventual descent into alcoholism. "My brave little man!" she said with her eyes shining. "It was God did it you were there. You were his guardian angel." The fact that his father eventually foreswore drink indicates the extent to which the incident impacted his father in ways that the boy could not know at the time. However, the mother's joy and the fact that the boy was the father's guardian angel seem to indicate that this incident, for all of its negative implications, was a harbinger of good things to come. The fact that the boy became the drunkard of the title for one night rather than his father is the child's lasting legacy to his family's security, and eventually resulted in his father foreswearing drink for the rest of his life. What seems to be a story of tragedy early on becomes a comic and hopeful tale about a young son making good on a promise to his mother.
O'Connor, Frank. "The Drunkard." 14 May 2007. Short Story Classics. Last updated 11
Feb 2000. E-Text available at http://ee.1asphost.com/shortstoryclassics/foconnordrunkard.html
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