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Of The Cloth

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Of The Cloth Essay, Research Paper

Deborah Anne Richardson

September 04, 1999

Writing 206

An Analysis of

?Of the Cloth?

William Trevor, ?Of the Cloth,? New York, New York, The New Yorker, March 09,

1999.

?Of the Cloth? is a contemporary work of short fiction set in the remote Irish community

of Ennismolach County during the early summer of the year, nineteen hundred and ninety seven.

The greater part of the story takes place in a small, stone rectory nestled among the green valleys

and pasturelands that lie below the Irish mountain slopes. The author describes solitary hillsides,

peaks and valleys, and a remnant of what once was a town. He describes empty homes, tumbled

into weed ridden ruins, as their former residents chose to leave, pursuing the promise of a more

prosperous life in the city. The author depicts, in detail, long, winding country roads leading to

the three small Protestant churches dotting the countryside, Hogan?s Grocery, Bar and Petrol

Pump, the only store within miles, and to the Catholic Church of the Holy Assumption, ?solitary

and splendid by the roadside, still seeming new, although it had been there for sixty years.?

The story was dominated by a single character, The Reverend Grattan Fitzmaurice, of the

Ennismolach rectory. He was described as an elderly man, faithful, dutiful, and devoted to his

church. He was settled in his life-long home, ?out of touch with the times and what was

happening in them, out of touch with two generations of change, with his own country and what it

had become.? He was a charitable man, providing employment, out of his own meager salary, for

a disabled man, Con Tonan, who would later die. He was respected by those who new him;

upright Mrs. Bradshaw who came for visits every Tuesday, Seamus Tonan, Conrad?s son, and

neighboring Catholic parishioners, Father MacPartlan and Curate Leahy.

?Of the Cloth? concerns, mostly, the pensive reflections of an Irish Protestant reverend

during a few long weeks in 1997. The reader visits the Reverend Grattan Fitzmaurice, in his home

and enters in upon his personal musings and daily activities. Grattan leads a quiet life; his days are

made worthwhile in his labour for the church. We enter in upon his thoughtful ruminations,

broken only by Mrs. Bradshaw?s occasional visits, as they met ?exchanging scraps of news.? The

reverend frequently referred to his growing displeasure with the state of the Protestant church in

Ireland and the generation that would soon inherit it. He would regard, suspiciously, the Irish

Catholic Church, and look upon them as rivals to his cause.

Grattan?s solitude was broken, early one summer morning, as a red-haired youth arrived

bearing unfortunate tidings. Grattan recognized the boy, Seamus Tonan, the son of a Catholic

gardener formerly in his employment. Gratten had hired Corad, a disabled man, paying him out of

his own meager salary. Seamus informed the reverend of his father?s death and that the funeral

would be held on Monday. Grattan was touched by the boy?s thoughtfulness and offered him

every possible courtesy, but Seamus declined and went quickly on his way. The next morning the

reverend was visited by Mrs. Bradshaw, bearing the same news. They spoke fondly of the

deceased Conrad Tonan and their admiration of the humble man.

Later, following Conrad?s funeral, Grattan was visited by two local Catholic priests,

Fathers MacPartlan and Leahy of the Catholic Church of the Holy Assumption. Although he was

courteous, he appraised them critically, ever suspicious of their motives. He feared that they had

come in a spirit of disguised rivalry rather than good Christian charity and found himself shrinking

away from conversation.

As the afternoon wore on, the two fathers persisted in their attempts to insight a

conversation with the reverend. Eventually, their words began to strike accord. As the three

discussed their concerns for the future, Grattan began to recognize a mutuality of purpose. He

realized that as the Irish population shrank from faith, each church struggled to keep their spark

aglow. He knew now that each gift of kindness mattered, regardless of the source. The priests had

come that evening to recognize his kindness to Conrad, and in his time of grief, he could now

appreciate their gesture.

?Of the Cloth? was a finely written piece of short fiction. It was well structured and

cohesive, each piece of the story finely woven together by nearly ethereal threads of thought.

The author approached his subjects truthfully, lending to each character a sincerity uncommon in

contemporary American fiction. Through Grattan?s concerns and reminiscence, the author affords

the reader great insight into the mind of the story?s central character. Each character is provided a

well developed history, frequently extending even beyond their birth.

The images surrounding the story?s central characters serve to heighten the mood of the

story, making the expressed emotions more real. The desolate pastures and valleys of

Ennismolach mirror the state of the church in Ireland, even the reverend saw his countenance in

the long granite hillsides,? Fitzmaurice had the look of that gray, unyielding stone, visible even in

the pastureland of the valley. Thin and tall, he belonged to the landscape…?

The author employs a homely vocabulary, well suited to the tone of the story. He writes

with a rough pen, devoid of the sophisticated or florid language that might have been so

inappropriate within the context of the story. The author chose to confine his exposition to the

events surrounding a single week in the life of one man. He chose not to litter his composition

with petty subplots or savvy dialogue but to sincerely express the essence of a common man.

I truly enjoyed William Trevor?s ?Of the Cloth? and look forward to reading further works

by this adept and talented author.

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