Guests of the Nation

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Natural Empathy: Duty and Responsibility in "Guests of the Nation"

Frank O'Connor uses character surnames in his story "Guests of the Nation" to help develop the characters of the English and Irish soldiers. The characters engage in a struggle between hidden powers of empathy and duty, and O'Connor displays their first-person point of view about the irony of war similar to Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Man He Killed": Yes; quaint and curious war is!

You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.

Behind the murderous "duty" that lies at the center of the story, O'Connor has chosen a particular set of names to represent his characters who are all humanized in a way that shocks the reader powerfully. Further investigation will show how the use of the particular surnames is possibly significant in O'Connor's "Guests of the Nation."

In the opening paragraph a big Englishman is introduced by the name of Belcher. O'Connor immediately establishes a sense of comradeship between the English prisoner-of-war and the Irish soldiers holding Belcher and Hawkins captive by using the expression "chums" during a friendly game of poker. Although Belcher is portrayed as a "short" man, or "…should I say lack?—of speech…,"(DiYanni, 46) the meaning of his name is "good cheer" or "fine entertainment." So, even though these men are being held as prisoners of war, or hostage in the case of "Guests of the Nation," their captors have made the choice to become acquainted with and befriend them.

Being held captive along with Belcher is another Englishman by the name of Hawkins. The name coming from the patronymic name "Hawk," illustrates Hawkins as a keen and intelligent individual. During the second chapter in "Guests of the Nation," O'Connor shows us Hawkins intelligence and intellect as he is arguing with one of the Irish soldiers, Noble, about capitalists, priests, and love of one's country. Despite Hawkins being the captive in...
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