Essay on The Guests of a Nation by Frank OConnor

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Harvey Mudd College
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The Guest of a Nation is a collection of short stories written by Frank OConnor. The story was initially written in 1931. The central theme of the short story is war, where it portrays the killing of two Englishmen Hawkins and Belcher by the Irish Army in the War of independence (Oconner, 1966). The stories are about the war, and the devastating and cruelty it brings to humanity as demonstrated at every step in the story.

Hawkins and Belcher are being held in an Irish prison with a group of Irish rebels. Meanwhile, several Irish rebel soldiers are being held as prisoners by the British army. Even though there is a cordial relationship between the two Englishmen and the Irish rebels which make them talk politics, play and do everything else together, the intent of putting them into prison is entirely different. One of the rebel tells the narrator that the reason they are holding the two Englishmen is not that they are prisoners, but because there are so many Irish rebels held by their British army, and therefore they are keeping their men just as insurance for their men. If the British decide to kill the Irish army rebels, then they too would kill the two Englishmen in retaliation. The narrator, an Irishman doesnt like the situation, but he has little control over the circumstances. An Irish intelligence officer would later come with news that the rebels have been shot, and in retaliation, the two Englishmen must be killed. This instance is just a complicated portrayal of a community that is not at peace, which is actively fighting with either side taking hostage of individuals from the other. It gives a picture of a country that is genuinely at war with each other.

The characters who appear in the short story are interesting, and of varying and contrasting traits ("Analysis of Frank O'Connor's 'Guests of the Nation' and Philip MacCann's 'A Drive,'" 2017). Bonaparte is the narrator who has to ensure all the feelings to tell the story of the war of independence. Bonaparte demonstrates a community that does not value human life, one of hostility and brutality to humanity. However, the narrator is more compassionate and regretful of the events. That is demonstrated when he acts surprised when one of the rebel soldiers informs him that the two Englishmen will be executed if the Irish rebels are killed on the other side with the Englishmen. Bonaparte, after the execution of the two Englishmen, leaves the scene, feeling extremely bad, small and powerless. He probably thinks with the power he would put everything under control, and prevent the executions he doesnt approve of.

Other characters who are severely affected by the war are the two Englishmen Hawkins and Belcher. They are at the center of the story, being the captured Englishmen being used as hostages possibly to prevent the Englishmen from going into war or executing the Irish rebels in the war. Sadly, the Englishmen are also ruthless on the other end and have no time to continue hosting Irish insurgents. They execute the Irish soldiers, who retaliate against Hawkins and Belcher. One morning, Feeney, who serves as the intelligence officer for the Irish rebels arrives with news that their men have been executed, and from that point, Hawkins and Belcher are taken to pay the price.

Another character that features prominently is Jeremiah Donovan. He is the executed and portrayed as a ruthlessly cruel man. He is an Irish rebel with a deep-rooted hatred for prisoners, mainly from the English side. When Feeney arrives with news that Irish soldiers have been killed, he immediately plans on how to get Hawkins and Belcher into the execution scene. To ensure they dont suspect the intention, he just tells them they will be transferred. This disturbs Bonaparte, but he has no option, he has to let it happen. The man portrays as shy in the story abruptly becomes very happy, energized and excited (Briden, 1976). Once at the execution scene, Donovan reacts by shooting Hawkins, and that trembles Belcher, who cannot run. When he shoots Noble and discovers he is not yet dead, he asks Bonaparte to give him another. But Bonaparte does not want to do so; Donovan takes the gun and shoots them multiple times until he confirms both are dead. The whole war or executions seem to have taken a toll on the old woman mentioned in the story. She is not comfortable with the killings, and when she suspects them, she asks Feeney about it. Feeney doesnt reply, a situation that makes the woman go down on her knees to pray. She is disturbed by the war and executions.

The short story illustrates the inhumanity of war. The nature of war portrayed in the text is one that demonstrates a human dimension ("Nature and Character of War and Warfare," 2017). The whole story from the description of war, to what happens all through is just pure acts of undermining the basic principles of humanity, all in the pretext of fulfilling their patriotic duties. It starts by giving individuals in a war atmosphere. The two Englishmen are prisoners, who later revealed to be hostages. All other men are rebels. Those who come later also have some role in the conflict, and none is hopeful about the situation. However, more chillingly is the revelations that executions are expected, and the Englishmen are deliberately being held to be executed later. The breaking point, where the inhumanity among the whole theme, which also demonstrates the nature of war, comes when an intelligence officer arrives with news that the Englishmen have executed Irish rebels. Donovan, a man with the belief that the states loyalty should never be questioned, takes up a gun to revenge. He then exemplifies lack of humanity by the cold blood murder of Hawkins and Belcher.

The Guests of a Nation allows OConnor to give a chilling story pitying the Englishmen and the Irish Republican Army. The two warring parties portray extreme lack of humanity in everything they do. Other than the narrator who is evidently unhappy about all that happens in the war, and the woman who is against cold blood murders, everyone else seems interested in the war. Donovan takes the trophy by portraying what the war is all about, brutality and merciless to the spirit of humanity.



Briden, E. F. (1976). 'Guests of the Nation,'A Final Irony. Studies in Short Fiction, 13(1), 79.GRIN - Analysis of Frank O'Connor's 'Guests of the Nation' and Philip MacCann's 'A Drive.' (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from

Nature and Character of War and Warfare. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from

Oconner, F. (1966). Guests of a Nation. Retrieved from

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