The Genius by Frank O’Connor

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The Genius by Frank O’Connor The boy’s personality and his intelligence are swiftly established in the opening paragraph. His mother is presented as being a strong influence on him and appears as a kind of ‘ally’ against the rough children – ‘savages’ as she describes them – that live and play in the area. It is clear that she encourages him to regard himself as ‘different’ and separate from them, but it is equally obvious that he is not anxious to associate with them anyway. He describes himself as “a cissy by conviction” and says that he regarded the idea of fighting as both unattractive and ‘dangerous’. He avoids rough games and prefers the company of girls to boys only because “they don’t fight so much”. Religion seems to play an unusually important role in his life and it seems probable that this is a reflection of his close relationship with Miss Cooney. He himself uses “our Blessed Lord” as a kind of defence against bullies who might otherwise ‘hammer’ his head on the pavement. It is evident from the way he uses argument that he is unusually articulate for his age, and this is a reflection of both his natural intelligence and his strong preference for adult company. The fact that his mother has told him “about geniuses” makes it clear that she has high ambitions for him. This is reinforced by the fact that she: “Worried herself endlessly finding answers to my questions”. Miss Cooney, however, plays an important role in encouraging and ‘feeding’ the boy’s sense of himself as someone ‘special’. Although a very eccentric and even unstable woman, she recognises his intelligence and, by making her “religious books” freely available to him, seeks to plant and foster the growth of the idea th... ... middle of paper ... ...y life’, but also to Frank O’Connor’s discussion of the short story in The Lonely Voice (1963). O’Connor compares the novel and the short story: whereas the novel can ‘adhere to the classical concept of civilized society, of man as an animal who lives in a community...the short story remains by its very nature remote from the community - romantic, individualistic, and intransigent.’ The relevance of aspects of this will echo through my discussion of a story by Tobias Wolff in the final section of my paper. For O’Connor, the short story is concerned with individuals who are marginalised, or who marginalise themselves: these individuals are ‘outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society...As a result, there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in the novel - an intense awareness of human loneliness.’

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