Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

25 Mar 2011

(Short Story) The Father by: Bjornsterene Bjornsen

(Reaction) Moral Lessons by: Antonio Conejos

On its surface, the Father is a simple moral parable. Thord Overass is a wealthy man and throughout most of the short story he uses his wealth for the edification of his family. He funds his son's baptism, confirmation and engagement with generous donations to the parish priest. He is in the prime of health, so much so that after the passing of 16 years between the son's baptism and confirmation, the priest compliments Thord on his vitality, Really, you carry your age astonishingly well. Thord attributes this to how well life is treating him, because I have no troubles.

Yet tragedy strikes and the son drowns on the way to his betrothed. Thord is beside himself with grief, people saw the father rowing round and round the spot, without taking either food or sleep; he was dragging the lake for the body of his son. When Thord finally comes to see the priest, he is unrecognizable, they youth and vigor sapped from him, in walked a tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair. The priest looked long at him before he recognized him.

With the death of his son, Thord comes to realize his true blessings, and decides to donate his money to the church, I should like to give to the poor; I want it to be invested as a legacy in my son's name. When asked what he is to do now, Thord replies simply, Something better.

Thus, the Father is a story with a lesson; seen in this light it is not unlike the parables of Jesus and the fables of Aesop.

Yet Thord is not the only father in the tale. There is also the priest, who is traditionally called father by Christians. It is interesting to note that the priest is not the paragon of moral virtue he initially appears to be.

Thord is a shrewd man and when it is time for his son to be confirmed, he ensures that he shall be the first of his group. He ensures this by implying its importance to the priest, I did not wish to pay the priest until I heard what number the boy would have when he takes his place in church tomorrow.

The priest is no fool and can read in between the lines. Without so much as a pause, the priest assures Thord that his son, will stand number one. Thord too does not miss a beat, So I have heard; and here are ten dollars for the priest.

This cozy closeness between Thord and the priest continues to the engagement of Thord's son. Thord pays three dollars when the priest is only asking for one; he explains, I know that very well; but he is my only child, and I want to do it handsomely. With that, The priest took the money.

Finally, when the son has died and Thord is in mourning, he makes a generous donation to the church (for the poor) and sets it on the priest's table. The first thing the priest does is to count the money and conclude with, I think your son has at last brought you a true blessing.

The priest's last words of the story are painful, even ghoulish for someone who has ever lost a child. To suggest that such an event could ever be a blessing approaches the monstrous. By suggesting that the son's death might be mitigated somehow by Thord's donation reveals just how well the priest has profited from his relationship with Thord.

Review:

This short story really hits you over the head with its supposed lesson but is quite devious in subtly laying out the undertones of the priest's actions. Bjornsen probably never intended his story to be read in this light but this is the unfortunate reading which comes to mind in an age where priests have been proven to be all too human. Still, such a reading does not detract from the quiet art of the story and one does really feel Thord's grief over his son.

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