Of The Cloth By William Trevor Essay

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,
Hogan’s 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, Conrad’s 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. Bradshaw’s 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. Grattan’s solitude was broken, early one
summer morning, as a red-haired youth arrived bearing unfortunate tidings.

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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 father’s
death and that the funeral would be held on Monday. Grattan was touched by the
boy’s 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 Conrad’s
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 Grattan’s concerns and
reminiscence, the author affords the reader great insight into the mind of the
story’s central character. Each character is provided a well developed
history, frequently extending even beyond their birth. The images surrounding
the story’s 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 Trevor’s “Of the
Cloth” and look forward to reading further works by this adept and talented


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