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My Oedipus Complex by Frank O'Conner

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In “My Oedipus Complex,” the concepts of absence and presence are played with in the attendance of Larry’s father. The result is a contradicting cycle of physically present but detached, to gone but often thought of, and back to physically present but removed. The father’s fleeting presence at the beginning of the story, followed by how he has gone to war but is always thought about, and finally how he is home but marginalized by the baby demonstrates how he is often both present and absent.

Often Daddy’s literal attendance does not constitute an actual presence. “Sometimes in the early morning I heard the slamming of the front door and the clatter of nailed boots down the cobbles or the lane” (8). This shows that, even though Larry’s father sometimes stays in the house and lives with them, his presence does not influence Larry’s life. In a sense, he’s not really there at all, seeing as his presence is so completely insignificant. Also, because the father plays such a small part in his child’s life but doesn’t remain a complete mystery, his attendance does not spark Larry’s curiosity. Instead, Larry accepts him as a general figure, neither friend nor foe, who has little influence over his life. Though his father is there, it doesn’t affect him at all. How his father is both present but also absent is paradoxical but still true.

At the same time, his father is not there- literally. Larry’s father is in the army, away fighting the first war, so he can not have much time for family. However, we can see how he still affects the mother and son. “After breakfast we went into town; heard Mass at St. Augustine’s and said a prayer for Father, and did the shopping” (8). In a normal morning, Larry and his mother do three things in town, two of them fairly essential for life at the time. Religion was a must and people need food to eat. Praying for Father isn’t a matter of life or death, yet it is still an every day constant. Also, because they pray for Father every day, he influences their lives. In this sense, he has presence in their lives. His absence influences their lives- even more so than his physical presence in Larry’s case and because of this, his nonattendance is actually a presence of sorts.

Once the father is back with the mother and son, and has a new son, his presence seems to become less predominant in the mother’s life. When he is a fleeting presence, he holds little influence over her and Larry’s lives. Though he has a lot of control over the mother’s actions and attention when he first comes back, after the baby comes he begins to lose it. “After turning me out of the big bed, he had been turned out himself. Mother had no consideration now for anyone but that poisonous pup, Sonny” (15). In the story, the “big bed” is a sort of symbol for importance. Larry is the foremost attention receiver until his father comes back, at which point Larry becomes second place. With the baby’s arrival, the father himself is kicked out of the favored spot. The mother marginalizes him for Sonny until the point where he is actually replaced with Sonny, in the household hierarchy. Ironically, when he is kicked out of the mother’s life, he is thrown into Larry’s. His new alliance with Larry seems to diminish his presence with his wife also. Similarly, she can’t seem to give attention to anyone other than Sonny. In the same way he could only stay for brief amounts of time before, he’s now much less influential and not as present in the mother’s life, yet he hasn’t left the house.

The story portrays how the concepts absent and present each have different meanings and how both can be true simultaneously. Sometimes a person can be physically there but their mind far off, thinking about a war, enough so that it seems as if they’re never actually there. Other times, the person really will be gone but their family and friends still think about them and pray for them and, in this way, the person really isn’t absent from their lives. Furthermore, a person can also be there but, by the actions of another person, be irrelevant in this other person’s life. The person can seem absent or detached when they are technically there or physically gone but kept emotionally close by their loved ones.





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