Of The Cloth By William Trevor 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, Hogans 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, Conrads 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. Bradshaws 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.
Grattans 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 fathers death and that the funeral would be held on Monday. Grattan was touched by the boys 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 Conrads 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 Grattans concerns and reminiscence, the author affords the reader great insight into the mind of the storys central character.
Each character is provided a well developed history, frequently extending even beyond their birth.The images surrounding the storys 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 Trevors “Of the Cloth” and look forward to reading further works by this adept and talented author.