“Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another?”Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These, 2021
The shortest story can make a massive impact in our lives; Shirley Jackson’s uneasy plot of The Lottery and Ernest Hemingway’s destructive nature of The Old Man and the Sea are just a couple of phenomenal works in classic literature. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is and will be a contender of short literature with unforgettable storytelling and a meaningful moral, anyone can abide by.
WARNING SPOILERS ALERT
Small Like Things Like These tells a tale of Bill Furlong (Furlong in the book) preparing his family for Christmas in 1985 Ireland. Furlong reminisces his childhood, being raised by Mrs. Wilson after his mother passed away. He never knew his father, but was able to marry, start a beautiful family, and work locally in his hometown. A week before Christmas, he wanted to visit one of the nuns at his church, but stumbled upon young orphaned girls working in the laundry the back of the church.
The Magdalene Laundries
The independence of Ireland resulted Ireland’s declaration as a free state from the UK, but also erected a cruel oppressed operation called the Magdalene laundries. The purpose of the Magdalene laundries was to “treat” unwed mothers and sex workers to become contributors of society, in facilitated areas run by the church. Infamous churches that operated the laundries were The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity, and the Good Shepherd Sisters.
The victims of the laundries were forced to work for unpaid labor, suffered psychological and physical damages, or perished under the supervision of the nuns. Furlong’s story came full circle when he meets a young worker, Sarah. She was no more than nine years old in the laundries when he found her shivering in the shed adjacent to the church. His mother was a victim of the laundries, and was saved by Mrs. Wilson, who later became his guardian. Mrs. Wilson taking in his mother was highlighted as a small gesture of kindness, but created a positive impact to Furlong and his future. In return, he does the same for Sarah.
Small Acts of Kindness
What is considered an act of kindness? Keegan emphasizes the town’s faith of Christianity connects charity, but townspeople didn’t seem to acknowledge the girls suffering in the laundries run by the church. Furlong wanted to open a dialogue with his wife after encountering Sarah, but she does not want to hear about the situation. She may be worried about the circumstances if Furlong were to bring an orphan home. However, we won’t know for sure, for the human thought of morality is quite complex.
I was a little frustrated, think Furlong was the only same person in the story, but who am I to place my opinion? Our world is not filled with joy and peace without acknowledging the downpour of others. Witnessing the people in need is heartbreaking; Maybe we believe we do not or cannot create a meaningful gesture to help the impoverished, or feed the hungry. Our efforts may not be enough.
The frustration and the negative thoughts engulf Furlong’s morality for a few days before finally rescuing Sarah. He remembered Mrs. Wilson’s choice of caring for him, and realized he would have not been born without her helping his mother from the laundries. Her example inspired Furlong to commit the same act for Sarah.
If Mrs. Wilson was able to inspire Furlong a simple act of kindness, we as the privileged can do it too. In this world, we tend to look away from those who are in need. I don’t know the reasons why we are hesitant to help others; maybe we’re scared to act or we feel indifferent . However, we too should inspire others to make changes, whether they’re grandiose or small.
This holiday and for the rest of my existence, I believe we can make a difference in our world, and share kindness to others. We can set examples of genuine kindness. If we show kindness that comes from the heart, we will be able to truly inspire others to do so.
Thank you for reading my reflection on Small Things Like These; it was such a beautiful story that just happens to take place during the holidays. I too would like to practice acts of change to maybe pass the gesture down to others. We might be able to make a huge impact one day.
Happy Holidays readers, open your mind to old and new worlds, and Ad Astra Per Libras.
To learn more about the Magdalene Laundries, please go to A Justice for Magdalenes Research. It’s a great resource to understand this tragic event, and help preserve the memories of the Magdalenes victims.
Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Books similar to Small Things Like These
Foster, Claire Keegan
Bless Me Ultima, Anaya Rudolfo
Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult (Example of an uncomfortable topic that needs a dialogue like the Magdalene laundries)
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee