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Aside

Unit 1.9 – Guests of the Nation

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

 

The following extract is from a Frank O’Connor’s short story, Guests of the Nation.

We had our tea one evening, and Hawkins lit the lamp and we all sat into cards. Jeremiah Donovan came in too, and sat down and watched us for a while, and it suddenly struck me that he had no great love for the two Englishmen. It came as a great surprise to me, because I hadn’t noticed anything about him before. Late in the evening a really terrible argument blew up between Hawkins and Noble, about capitalists and priests and love of your country.

‘The capitalists,’ says Hawkins with an angry gulp, ‘pays the priests to tell you about the next world so as you won’t notice what the bastards are up to in this.’

‘Nonsense, man!’ says Noble, losing his temper. ‘Before ever a capitalist was thought of, people believed in the next world.’

Hawkins stood up as though he was preaching a sermon.

‘Oh, they did, did they?’ he says with a sneer. ‘They believed in all the things you believe, isn’t that what you mean? And you believe that God created Adam, and Adam created Shem, and Shem created Jehoshophat. You believe all that silly old fairytale about Eve and Eden and the apple. Well, listen to me, chum. If you’re entitled to hold a silly belief like that, I’m entitled to hold my silly belief – which is that the first thing your God created was a bleeding capitalist, with morality and Rolls-Royce complete. Am I right, chum?’ he says to Belcher.

‘You’re right, chum,’ says Belcher with his amused smile, and got up from the table to stretch his long legs into the fire and stroke his moustache. So, seeing that Jeremiah Donovan was going, and that there was no knowing when the argument about religion would be over, I went with him. We strolled down to the village together, and then he stopped and started blushing and mumbling and saying I ought to be behind, keeping guard on the prisoners. I didn’t like the tone he took with me, and anyway I was bored with life in the cottage, so I replied by asking him what the hell he wanted guarding them at all for. I told him I’d talked it over with Noble, and that we’d both rather be out with a fighting column.

‘What use are those fellows to us?’ says I.

He looked at me in surprise and said: ‘Ithought you knew we were keeping them as hostages.’

‘Hostages?’ I said.

‘The enemy have prisoners belonging to us,’ he says, ‘and now they’re talking of shooting them. If they shoot our prisoners, we’ll shoot theirs.’

‘Shoot them?’ I said.

‘What else did you think we were keeping them for?’ he says.

‘Wasn’t it very unforseen of you not to warn Noble and myself of that in the beginning?’ I said.

‘How was it?’ says he. ‘You might have known it.’

‘We couldn’t know it, Jeremiah Donovan,’ says I.

‘How could we when they were on our hands so long?’

‘The enemy have our prisoners as long and longer’ says he.

‘That’s not the same thing at all,’ says I.

‘What diffference is there?’ says he.

I couldn’t tell him, because I knew he wouldn’t understand. If it was only an old dog that was going to the vet’s, you’d try and not get too fond of him, but Jeremiah Donovan wasn’t a man that would ever be in danger of that.

‘And when is this thing going to be decided?’ says I.

‘We might hear tonight,’ he says. ‘Or tomorrow or the next day at latest. So if it’s only hanging round here that’s a trouble to you, you’ll be free soon enough’.

 

 

1. Hawkins’ description of a capitalist ‘with morality and Rolls-Royce complete’ connotes:

  • A      Silliness and frivolity
  • B      Goodwill and entrepreneurialism
  • C      Self-importance and wealth
  • D      Ethics and Power

 

2. Jeremiah Donovan is portrayed as:

  • A      Dishonest and impatient
  • B      Heartless and cruel
  • C      Unsympathetic and dutiful
  • D      Inconsiderate and moronic

 

3. Why was the narrator so disturbed by Jeremiah Donovan’s news?

  • A      He was offended by Jeremiah’s lack of interest in human life
  • B      He had become friends with the Englishmen
  • C      He wasn’t, he had just been irritated by the religious debate
  • D      He didn’t want to have to stay in the cottage any longer

 

 

  • Answers:
    Q1: C
    The meaning of this line must be inferred context. ‘‘The capitalists,’ says Hawkins with an angry gulp, ‘pays the priests to tell you about the next world so as you won’t notice what the bastards are up to in this.’ Hawkins does not associate capitalists as having moral values. It is more likely that he is being sarcastic when he says they were created with morality. It’s not morality in the sense of doing ethical things, it’s a moral superiority. The Rolls is a symbol of wealth. (This might be a bit tricky to get your head around so i’m happy to answer any queries about this answer in the comments if there is any trouble)

    Q2: C
    We have no evidence of impatience. The narrator left the cottage because he didn’t want to sit through the religious debate, but it’s not specified why Jeremiah left. He is somewhat dishonest though. Heartless and Cruel is a bit much. He is unsympathetic to the narrator’s plight but is more concerned with carrying out his military duties than being cruel for the sake of it. Inconsiderate, yes. Moronic, not necessarily. He is obviously the leader of this group of soldiers and we don’t have much to go on to suggest that he is slow in the head.

    Q3: B
    The narrator’s inner monologue explains the problem: “I couldn’t tell him, because I knew he wouldn’t understand. If it was only an old dog that was going to the vet’s, you’d try and not get too fond of him.” Clearly he is angry because he wasn’t told that the Englishmen might be shot and has allowed himself to become friends with them (they all play cards together).

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    May 20, 2012

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