Literature Annotations


O'Brien, Edna
The Creature


Genre Short Story (7 pp.)
KeywordsAbandonment, Aging, Depression, Family Relationships, Human Worth, Loneliness, Love, Marital Discord, Mother-Son Relationship, Parenthood, Poverty, Scapegoating, Suffering
Summary

The narrator, a schoolteacher substituting in a "stagnant, godforsaken little place" in the west of Ireland, meets an old woman that everyone in town calls "The Creature." She decides to visit The Creature and listens to her story, eventually becoming a regular weekly visitor at her hut.

The Creature is a widow who has two children: a daughter who lives in Canada and a married son who lives a few miles away on a farm The Creature used to own. Her husband had been killed, a victim of The Troubles two years after they were married. Thus, she had to raise the children alone.

Originally her farm was relatively prosperous, but the animals had all developed hoof-and-mouth disease and died. Nonetheless, she managed to keep body and soul together and to send the children away to school. Her son returned from the city after marrying a woman who despised The Creature. He and his wife had moved into the farm, but the young couple argued every night about money and the mother's presence, so The Creature signed the farm over to her son and moved away. That was 17 years ago; he had never visited her since.

The narrator goes to the farm, meets the son (by this time a passive and depressed middle aged man), and arranges for him to visit his mother. He does this, but the visit goes poorly. The narrator finally realizes that she has actually removed the last little glimmer of hope the old woman had; before seeing her son again, she could always hope that someday the two would be reunited, but after he visits, she realizes that he doesn't care about her and will probably never come back.

Commentary

This is one of those uplifting Irish tales that exude the milk of human kindness and demonstrate how well the priest-ridden rural Irish practice Christian virtue.

The old woman's story is evidently well known in the community. Evidently because of her poverty and the series of losses that have plagued her throughout life, they call her "The Creature," suggesting a less than human status. The neighbors know that the old woman is utterly alone, but it seems to have taken an outsider to befriend her. Perhaps the local people believe that God must have cursed her, because "you sow what you reap." However, given the long history of undeserved misfortune suffered by the Irish, that seems an absurd point of view. In fact, The Creature is simply the local scapegoat, an outsider continually dumped-upon by the petty narrow-minded populace.

We learn nothing of her daughter, except that she is gone, presumably completely out of touch in Canada. Her son, who lives only four miles away on a farm than she has given him--shades of King Lear!--is equally absent. The embers of love in his heart seem to be cold and dead. If you believe that human beings are naturally kind and good at heart, this is a hard story to take, especially since it rings so true to experience.

SourceA Scandalous Woman and Other Stories
PublisherBallantine Books
Edition1976
Place PublishedNew York
Alternate SourceThe Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories
Alternate PublisherPenguin
Alternate Edition1983
Alternate EditorsBenedict Kiely
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 10/11/04