To Conquer Fear - an Essay on the Short Story "First Confession"

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To Conquer Fear

In the short story, “First Confession,” by Frank O’Connor, a young boy named Jackie finds himself having to conquer his fear of giving his first confession. He realizes by the end that he really had nothing to be afraid of and it was a silly fear. Jackie, scared to death of confession, tries to fake an illness to avoid it, ends up surprising the priest when he does go, and learns that ultimately, perception is scarier than reality. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, the reader and Jackie learn that in order to conquer fear, one must face it. Jackie, a young seven year old has been told stories by a woman named Mrs. Ryan that really worry him. One story is about a man who gives a bad confession and essentially eternally burns in hell. Mrs. Ryan also tries to give Jackie and the others a sense of what hell is like: “She lit a candle, took out a new half-crown, and offered it to the first boy who would hold one finger... in the flame for five minutes... Then she asked were we afraid of holding one finger... in a little flame for five minutes and not afraid of burning all over in roasting hot furnaces for all eternity” (O’Connor 26). When Mrs. Ryan tells stories and plays mind games like this, she’s basically scaring the children into giving a good, complete. However, with Jackie, this is too much, and he is frightened even more that he’ll mess up accidentally and go to hell. Instead of conquering his fear, he runs from it. The day confession comes around doesn’t go. He says, “I was scared to death of confession. The day the whole class went I let on to have a toothache, hoping my absence wouldn’t be noticed” (27). Mrs. Ryan has done her job well, to the point where Jackie is worried beyond belief. He decides to fake sick so as not to go, but as readers later find, this idea comes back to haunt him. If he had originally gone and faced his fear, the ordeal would already be over. Like many children, Jackie finds it easier to avoid the fears...
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