In “The Comforts of Home,” the interloper is a 19-year-old named Sarah Ham (note the surname), who has been incarcerated for passing bad cheques. The mother of a 35-year-old history writer named Thomas takes pity on Sarah (who refers to herself as Star Drake) and hires a lawyer who secures the girl’s parole. After the crotchety old woman who has agreed to give Sarah board kicks the girl out for drunkenness, Thomas’s mother takes her in over the objections of her son. As with many of O’Connor’s best stories, “The Comforts of Home” employs an ironic mode; the irony here is vested in the character of Thomas, who is one in a long line of O’Connor intellectuals held up for scorn and ridicule. In this case,
the irony involves
Thomas’s repeated assertion that he will not abide Sarah’s presence in the house, because in his eyes she represents immorality and dissolution. “Thomas was not cynical,” we are told, “and so far from being opposed to virtue, he saw it as the principle of order and the only thing that makes life bearable.” Sarah, whom Thomas refers to as the “little slut,” represents, in his eyes, the antithesis of virtue and order.
His mother, meanwhile, is possessed, in Thomas’s estimation, of “the best intentions,” yet is blinded by her charitable impulses; her tendency is “to make a mockery of virtue, to pursue it with such a mindless intensity that everyone involved was made a fool of and virtue itself became ridiculous.”
Thomas considers himself a model of virtue and purity, but for him, virtue must exist in moderation, because “a moderation of good produces likewise a moderation of evil,” something that Thomas feels his mother would understand “[h]ad she been in any degree intellectual.”
The irony is that while Thomas proclaims himself virtuous, his propensity to withdraw from what he sees as an excess of charity on his mother’s part renders him practically ineffectual; he is paralyzed and unable to commit to any action, good or bad:...
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