Irish writer Frank O’Connor produced well over one hundred works in various genres including literary criticism, poetry, and drama and was best known for his output of short stories and memoirs. The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award was established in his honor. Much of his canon was inspired by events in his own life growing up in County Cork. The collection My Oedipus Complex and Other Stories consists of approximately 31 short stories, including the title piece which tells of a young boy named Larry and the feelings that he is dealing with relating to his father. When Larry’s father returns home from World War I Larry harbors feelings of resentment and fears losing the complete attention that he has enjoyed from his mother. He struggles to hold onto the attention he gets from her.
Larry Delaney the protagonist of My Oedipus Complex represents a semi-autobiographical version of the author O’Connor. In the story O’Connor juxtaposes the immediacy of a child’s perspective with the more fully developed perspective of the adult version of the character. Larry, as an adult, remembers his childhood self and the struggle he had coping with seeing his father as a rival thus leading to jealousy as well as feelings of envy connect to his brother, a baby in the family. Through an adult point of view, Larry informs the reader that time has led him to see from a different perspective and to have developed a sense of acceptance of the experience he is recounting. Because it remains clear that the child Larry and the adult Larry remain the same person, the lighter attitude that the adult has developed does not obscure the painful struggles of the child. On a wider scale, the story elucidates the universal conflicted nature of the relationship between fathers and sons.
As the story opens Larry shares his memories of an ideal and happy childhood spent with his mother while his father was away serving in World War I. During this time Larry is as devoted to his mother as she is attentive to him. They share a pleasant daily routine beginning with morning talks in her large bed and walks into town to attend church services and take care of any needed shopping. Other times, they take walks in the country. In the evenings Larry follows his mother’s lead in praying for the safe return of his father, who is a complete mystery to the boy. Everything changes when the father returns home and Larry’s position in his mother’s world quickly changes. There is no longer room in his mother’s bed in the morning. His mother redirects her attention from Larry to his father leaving the boy feeling ignored and unwanted. He is frequently asked to stop talking and remain quiet when his father speaks. He is to be careful not to do anything to awaken his father in the mornings. Larry resents taking second position, or perhaps third if the baby is considered, to his father whom he sees as a rude stranger in the house. Larry cannot understand why his mother favors such a person over him and in his mind it is somehow connected to his mother and father sleeping with each other which Larry describes as an “unhealthy habit” while he views the entire situation as a sign that God could not listen to prayers very carefully if this is how he answers them. Finally, a morning comes when Larry makes noise and wakes his father up and his father warns him to be quiet. Larry is then slapped by his father for yelling at him, which is the beginning of an ongoing series of conflicts between them.
A ceasefire of sorts develops between father and son when Larry’s father too feels that he is being ignored by his wife who now is focusing all of her attention on the baby. By the end of the story Larry is happier as he looks back at a time when his father bought him a model railroad for Christmas. Larry’s personality endears him to readers. He has an active imagination, is well spoken, and comes across as self-confident. The author successfully couples these traits with the sometimes naive nature of childhood as the young Larry does not display a deep understanding of certain concepts such as war, marriage, and reproduction. Further, he does not seem to understand why his mother shows so much concern for his father. The depiction of Larry brings both a poignant mood and a certain amount of humor to the story while dealing with a universal conflict. Larry discovers that fathers and sons always have some level of rivalry in their relationships as they jockey for position within a family. Compassion stems from conflict and while the generations can find common ground, the journey is rarely without a sense of loss.