abstract = “This essay considers “Korea” as a work of narrative poetry. Both the story’s imagery and its many repetitions work to create an elegiac tone that. ‘Korea’ by John McGahern has 5 ratings and 1 review. Victoria said: Good for GCSE revision and very interesting read:) Introduced many themes I hadn’t t. During his lifetime John McGahern was frequently called Ireland’s Chekhov. It’s a description that carries the flavour of journalistic laziness, but.

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In that same semester, McGahern taught an Irish literature course at Colgate. To McGahern, poetry was less about form or genre than it was about how the language was used, how the rhythms and imagery of the written word combined to make a work of art.

Superficially it is the story of a fisherman and potato farmer father and his teenaged son performing the routines of their common working life for the final time. The story is set on a single day sometime during the years of the war from which it takes its name that is to say, sometime after and beforeand is narrated by the son from the vantage point of several years later.

Father and son are working together for the final time, it transpires; the commercial fishing is dying out, and the son will soon leave either to further education or more profitable work. The idea of asking and telling are both important here; as it moves forward the story becomes a narrative of what father and son do and do not tell each other as much as it is about other concerns.

This choice is not mere convenience, but a nuance of narrative technique. That the son relates the story suggests that it is an anecdote that he has heard before, perhaps more than once. It is a story that he has absorbed.

He is asking, at korae time of civil war on the Korean Kofea, to be told again of a time of war much closer to home, and he relates the scene in great detail, which implies that he knows this story well.

They blindfolded the boy, but the man refused the blindfold. When the officer shouted, the boy clicked to attention, but the man stayed as he was, chewing very slowly. He had his hands in his pockets. One has crossed into a cynical adulthood, wherein he faces even his own execution with his eyes open and a nonchalant chew, his hands pocketed.

The other, still a youth, plays soldier to the end, snapping to attention despite his tears, despite his blindfold. The two not only face their respective deaths, but also die, in harshly contrasting manner. The sense of meaninglessness is underscored by the ironic commentary that follows the caesura of the colon: Here the execution—and by extension, the war—is linked to nature, and more specifically, to the landscape of Ireland.

These are the words of a man mcghaern by the executions he witnessed more jjohn thirty years previously: It was new to me to hear him talk about his own life at all. The father speaks with open antagonism towards his son, directly moving him to silence, as implied by the syntax: At the same time, however, the father has just opened up about a subject that he normally avoids.

The spider web simile again connects the war to an image of nature.

Here the spider web is the memory of war, or of an event within the war. The gesture is that of a man removing an invisible blindfold, one that if it actually existedwould only obscure the vision, not obstruct it entirely. The father is neither the blindfolded boy, nor the open-eyed cynic, but rather someone inbetween. Descriptions of people undertaking manual labor of various kinds is a particular McGahern forte, and the two paragraphs that mark the silence describe the details of eel fishing in a straightforward manner that despite—or rather, because of—its simplicity creates a ritualistic and meditative tone.

The narrator describes the two miles of line that he must haul in hand over hand, and then states: This work, this ritual, this culture has become unviable, as is made explicit later in the story, in the face of economic reality. While the son pulls in the line, the focus is solely on the details of the work: Halfway through the job, however, father and son switch roles.


First, no longer concentrating on the minutiae of collecting their catch, the narrator broadens his perspective and describes the river. The description serves to emphasize a sense of isolation:. Outside of the slow ripple of the oars and the threshing of the fish on the line beaded with running drops of water as it came in, the river was dead silent, except for the occasional lowing of cattle on the banks.

In actual fact, the river is not silent. The sound, however, is generated entirely by the work of the two protagonists, apart from the cows, who unlike the two humans, speak. Previously, while the father rowed, the son asked questions. As noted, the story began with a question. Following the execution story, he asks two more. From this moment in the story, however, the son rows, and the father will begin to speak in questions.

This moment of vagueness is important in a story so carefully and richly detailed. It is a moment of both recognition and uncertainty. Each week we sent the live eels to Billingsgate in London. The same character speaks twice in quick succession, and the slight formal jarring reflects the awkward tension that is rising between the protagonists. The reference to Billingsgate also serves to widen the perspective of the story, tying this isolated rural life to a wider context and also reinforcing the previous statement that they are the last to make their living in this way.

The father speaks in a mixture of question and statement that serves to underscore his uneasiness. He is not in fact a man speaking what is on his mind. Rather, he is a man speaking around what is on his mind, protecting both himself and his son from the bursting furze pod shock of the truth behind what he is saying.

Again, this story is more about what these two protagonists do not say to each other than it is about what they do say. They were not in his own voice. Just as the son, in narrating the execution story, chooses words that seem to belong to his father, here the father is choosing words that belong to someone else.

The conversation ends with another verbose statement from the father, although this one is more controlled than his opening salvo. I fought for this country.

And now they want to take away even the licence to fish. Will you think about it anyhow? The father ends with a question, again betraying a degree of uncertainty.

He expresses his natural desire as a parent to provide for his child. He also refers explicitly to the beginning of the story, to the fact that he fought for Ireland.

Finally, the father captures the frustration of being caught in the economic reality of a way of life that is changing beyond his control, and despite the fact that years ago he fought in a war that was in part about preserving that way of life. Indeed, the very thing that the father fought against—England—is the cause of this change. Towards the end of the following paragraph, the narrator notes that the fishing license application had been opposed by the tourist board.

Why Discussing John McGahern’s story “Korea”

Before he comments on the tourists, the morning gives way to day and the story moves into a third phase. The protagonists are physically separate for the first time in the story. As he works, koreea narrator registers the ambivalence he feels about the task.

The guilt of leaving came: I was discarding his life to assume my own. The narrator first registers the pain of doing a routine that he will never do again, but this quickly moves to boredom, and the first use of discard underscores that sense of boredom—the work hardly matters today, it could be thrown away now. The second use, however, is associated with guilt.


Although he told his father he would think about America, he apparently gives it no further thought whatsoever.

‘Korea’ by John McGahern: An Analysis by David Wheeler

Instead he thinks only of the boredom, and the guilt of the fact that by turning his back on that boredom, he is also abandoning his father to a tenuous living. As he walks to the lavatory, where they store the bait worms, the son observes his father talking to a cattle dealer friend. It becomes immediately clear why the name Moran gives the narrator pause. I heard the exact sum. They got ten thousand dollars when Luke was killed.

The father has told Farrell directly what he could only talk around when discussing it with his son. When Farrell responds it becomes clear that he and the father were discussing livestock prices after all. And yet, the lavatory is simultaneously a safe haven that protects him from the full impact of what he has heard. At the exact moment of climax of the story, the older man narrates the death of his childhood from the vantage of maturity, marking it with a degree of understatement.

Now he begins to think, and it is that thinking that pulls the blindfold of his youth from his eyes. Indeed, the images jar against each other when presented in this straightforward manner. It is the same thing that neither father nor son will discuss directly or simply with each other. The narrator completes the thought in the next paragraph, also composed of a single sentence. As it moves towards night, he tells his own story, of the end of his own youth. The violence is purely emotional.

Now the story has moved from morning, through day to evening, and the positions are reversed. Father and son are back on the river, and their conversation has moved not from executions and the rebellion to America, but from America to executions and the war. Talking about the execution disturbed me no end, those cursed buttons bursting into the air. Had he not fought inthere might not be an Ireland to fend for at all.

Nor does he acknowledge the hypocrisy of fighting his own war by trying to send his son to war in a foreign country on behalf of a foreign country.

A brief survey of the short story: John McGahern

That all these pressures can be borne out in a few straightforward sentences is testament to the construction of the story as a whole.

Its various repetitions and images reverberate across each other, within iorea, across paragraphs and from the opening sentence to the final words. As in the morning, it is father who, with a question, breaks the silence, but there is a qualitative difference in the evening. As throughout the story, this tone is achieved through the combination of repetition, and the juxtaposition of simple, yet direct declaratives.

Although they speak—almost—identical words, one line is infused with anxiety, marked by the hanging preposition and the adverb that colors the speech indicator. It is, indeed, calm, and reflects the state of composure—albeit a state of composure informed by lingering shock—that the son has reached.

The final paragraph encapsulates the tension of this new composure—indeed, the tension and intensity of adulthood—through the juxtaposition of two sentences. Each sentence carries an image of their last night of work on the river together. One, however, also contains an image of youth, while the other carries the burden of adulthood.

Linked in innocence in his childhood, the son now feels closer to his father than ever before because, his youth ended, they are now linked in maturity, and the contradictions, complexities, and knowledge that maturity brings.