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“Small Things Like These” by Claire Keegan

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UTD chapter.

“Small Things Like These” is a short book by Claire Keegan. It is set in a rural Irish town during
Christmastime in the 1985. It is focused on Bill Furlong – a coal merchant, and dad to five

For historical context, Ireland was in an economic recession during the book’s setting. In the
story – signs of this are present. Unemployment lines were long, living standards had fallen for
most – and people saw immigration to the United States or England as the best solution for the
future generation. Additionally, around this time, Ireland also had “Magdalene Laundries” –
which were institutions created for “fallen women” (for example, women who). The women who
were put into these performed unpaid labor, such as sewing, cooking, and cleaning – and were
often beaten or abused.

The story reflects Furlong’s thoughts and disconnection from those around him as he performs
his daily activities. Keegan masterfully writes deep revelations that come to the character while
he merely observes others or thinks over his past and present life.

Furlong was born to a single mother and worked as a maid. From a young age, he sensed the
judgment and unspoken exclusion that he faced because he was an “illegitimate” child. As he
grows up, he becomes a successful coal merchant – and marries a middle-class woman namedEileen, and raises their 5 daughters. Seeing his betterment of life, Furlong feels a strange guilt
knowing that there are people around him who are still suffering. Particularly, the well-being of
his daughters makes him worry about the girls placed in the Magdalene laundries, and if a small
stroke of fate could’ve had his daughters struggling the same way those girls did.

The novel details Furlong’s supposed curse of empathy – whereas everyone else merely carries
on, or diverts their eyes from struggles that are not their own.

I am a senior and political science major at UTD. My interests include literature, travel, and martial arts.