The Short Stories of Morley Callaghan
Placing Reality in Perspective: Guiding Lives

By Ian Mugford

The writings of Morley Callaghan (1903-1990), having spanned many epochal events in American history, such as the Great Depression, reflect the needs and times of their setting. Callaghan tells his stories with great intensity that grips the reader. Their depth is many times deceptive yet to the lay person the theme is more than obvious. Callaghan follows a very simple style of writing probably influenced by his association with Ernst Hemingway and early experiences as a reporter. Yet through this minimalism a powerful moral, social and psychological message is conveyed most cogently. The clear and lucid language and incisive allegories make his stories a compelling read, reflecting on the circumstances of his times.


The plot of ''All the Years of Her Life'' involves the influence of a mother's character on a son who has been caught stealing in a drug store. The principal characters are three, Alfred Higgins, the protagonist, Sam Carr the store owner and Alfred Higgins's mother. Sam Carr catches Alfred pilfering items from the store in which he is working. Sam has two options; one call the police, the other is to exercise a powerful moral influence. He chooses the latter. When Alfred sees his mother's reaction, he gets a new insight into his wrong doing, thereby providing him a fresh perspective on life and creating a feeling of remorse. It is with a new spirit of hope that the story is brought to conclusion by Callaghan.

Reading between the lines it may be deduced that Callaghan, through this short story, perhaps wants to give hope to parents who have a wayward child and are frustrated. He also depicts a kind-hearted store keeper Carr, who is willing to give another chance to a person who is self-deceptive and one who does not reflect the values of his parents. Carr's forgiveness and adoption of the path of repentance through a moral rather than a legal influence indicates the Catholic perspective from which Callaghan is known to write.

By lucidly depicting the conflicts between the store owner and Alfred on one hand and the son and the mother on the other, Callaghan shows how one can resolve many dilemmas which we face in real life. Another aspect of the plot is the insight it provides on maternal relationships, particularly between a mother and a son. As the story has been set in times when parent - child relationships were being redefined, it reinforces traditional values of parenting which emphasized the parent providing a moral guiding light to children.

The theme of "Last Spring They Came Over" reflects the dilemma of immigrants to Canada, their inability to adjust to the new environment, particularly the liberal atmosphere in the country. Alfred and Harry Bowles left the home of their Baptist father in England, who could not support a large family. They attempt to adjust to the competitive milieu of newspaper reporting in Toronto without showing any signs of external trepidations. However there are dilemmas within, which seem to emotionally affect the brothers, which remain unsurfaced and are very coherently depicted by the author.

As in other short stories of Callaghan, there are only two principal characters, the brothers, Alfred and Harry. The city editor, Mr. H J Brownson, and Brophy, an aggressive fellow reporter, are the other minor characters. Alfred and Harry's attachment to the family back home is highlighted by Callaghan through their regular letters. The allusions to their sexual preferences are also very subtle. In effect by indicating that they came over in the spring and died before the next one, Callaghan attempts to bring out the need for immigrants to adjust quickly to a new environment.

Through the sad ending he indicates that those who are not able to adjust to the new society and the new world are doomed to perish. Thus the principal theme is the adjustments that immigrants need to make to settle down smoothly in a new country.

The ending is typical of Callaghan's writings, where he leaves the reader to guess what happened to Alfred, thereby allowing the reader to make his own interpretations based on individual proclivities.

"Rigmarole" is another typical Callaghan allegorical story. The style and language continues to be simple. The story revolves on the dilemma faced by the two principal characters; Jeff Hilton and his wife Mathilde Hilton. Their sub-conscious rumblings are a powerful style used by the author who offers a restricted point of view. The author in this case brings out the predicaments of a young couple after just a few years of marriage, when the pulls and pressures are quite divergent and when flirting continues to be a tactic to evade the reality of marriage. The title itself is suggestive, representing the blather of married life. It is only once they part for some time that Jeff and Mathilde realize their love for each other and how much they value each other's company. The author provides a realistic perspective to young couples of transformations in life that occur after marriage.

A short story needs to effectively connect with the audience to convey the theme designed by the author. The reader should find a reflection of his or her own life in the story. It has to deal with issues which are confronted by people in their day-to-day existence. The author's style thus has to be understated and not very expansive. The short story writer of Callaghan's generation catered to this need. In all his stories Callaghan used simple language which is easily understandable by the common man. It suits the audience, the subject and the narrative. Some critics feel that his writings are deceptively simple, but it gets across the message that the author perhaps wants to convey.

Callaghan's style in all his stories is that of a simple narrator, rather than the more extreme styles of modern writers. In the three stories reviewed Callaghan provides perspectives into mother-son and husband-wife relationship in a very simple yet definitive style. While some may consider this to be old fashioned it serves the purpose for which the author has written and the period in which the plots have been set.

The approach by Callaghan in his stories is highly descriptive. In ''All the Years of Her Life'' for instance, he adopts a simple format in which the plot follows the consequences of a theft by the main protagonist, Alfred. The scheme moves from event to event in a sequential manner except for the final paragraph wherein as the son sees his mother's hands trembling while pouring tea, all the memories of trials in her life flash back to him. A similar setting is seen in his other stories. The uncomplicated formatting helps the reader to absorb the story easily. In many of his short stories, Callaghan does not come to a definitive conclusion but provides an open ending to the plot for interpretation by the reader.

Callaghan's writings are known to have a Catholic sermonizing tenor. Thus issues of conscience or morality and fair conduct are invariably reflected in them. His characters are strong-willed, however they generally lack confidence, thereby they face crisis in their lives. This is evident in the protagonists in all the three stories reviewed. Callaghan poses options to their dilemmas in the plot, thereby giving the reader an overview into similar situations in real life.

Callaghan's writings allegorically denote in his stories the large number of moral, psychological or religious dilemmas faced by people in their day-to-day lives. Whether it is Alfred in "Last Spring They Came Over" or the Hiltons in "Rigmarole", he effectively portrays the conflicts that occur in our daily lives and then enables us to discover the solutions thereof. Thus Alfred seeks solace in the strength of character of his mother, while the Hiltons realize their love for each other only after being temporarily separated. Callaghan succeeds in getting the reader totally involved in the plot by making him feel the pulse and the intensity of the author. Thus his short stories continue to be read and liked many years after they were written.

Works Cited

Callaghan, Morley. Rigmarole
---. Last Spring They Came Over
---. All the Years Of Her Life

© Ian Mugford, December 2006
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Ian MugfordName: Ian Mugford (More often referred to as Mugz)
D.O.B.: December 5th, 1985
Education: Currently, Ian is in his third year of his Bachelor of Arts program at Cape Breton University with his key focus within the fields of English literature and history. Upon completion, Ian intends to enroll in the University of Maine with aspirations of obtaining his Bachelor of Education degree with future plans of obtaining a PH.D. within a field of literature.
Current Profession: Ian currently works as a technical support agent for the company of iBahn (A hotel based internet provider).
Hobbies: Aside from writing, Ian enjoys various activities including sports, music, partaking in social gatherings amongst friends, and spending time with his family (Father - Eric, Mother - Sabina, Brother - Evan, Sister-In-Law - Candice, Girlfriend - Lauren, and his two nieces which are also his God Daughters - Jessica Sabina-Lynn and Emma Sarah Noelle). Ian also has a great fascination with animals and loves pets. His dog, Maya, is a pure breaded basenji and is with him on most occasions.
Favourite Writers/Inspirations: Ian enjoys reading such authors as James Joyce, Walt Whitman, E.M. Forster, Edgar Allen Poe, Graham Greene, Stephen King, Morley Callaghan, Ernest Hemmingway and most notably Shakespeare (Ian has current intentions of writing his thesis paper on Shakespearean writing)
Other Favourites: Musical Artist - Eminem. Song - The Path (West Avenue). Actor - Will Ferrell; Adam Sandler; Vince Vaughn. Show - House; Criss Angel Cartoon - Family Guy Movie - Remember the Titans; Click. Colour - Blue. Literary Work - Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, (Modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet & Othello)
Pet Peeves: Narrow-minded views and opinions Not finishing an intelligent conversation or debate.
Life's Ambition: To see the world

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