Doctor’s Hanray’s Second Chance
Keywords: atomic bomb, father-son relationship, memory, Odyssey, physicist, war, WWII
Doctor Hanray is a PhD physicist visiting his old town as an old, sick (apparently from radiation sickness) man visiting his ancestral home in the present, or near past, i.e., post WWII and post atomic bomb development and detonation. He has to obtain permission from the guards who had turned his small village into a “reservation” in order to visit his parents’ graves. He is greeted with military brusqueness at first until they realize who he is and then treat him with honor as one of the developers of the atomic bomb, an honor that makes him “wince” (his word) internally whenever this fact is mentioned.
While looking around and trying to get his childhood bearings despite the absence of landmarks with all the new building and destruction of the old, Dr. Hanray spots a young lad – age 14 – coming up the road. It is he as his younger self. The younger Dr. Hanray takes him home where he meets his mother and physician father. He wishes to convince his younger self not to go into science, as his father says is his wish, clearly in order to sway the future development of the atomic bomb. He is met with a cold reception – but civil – by his mother, father and younger self until Doxy, their dog, comes in and recognizes the identity of Dr. Hanray elder with the boy. Doxy’s warmth turns the mood around but in the end Dr. Hanray is unsuccessful in dissuading the boy and he leaves only to wake up on the ground outside his deserted home.
Doctor Hanray’s Second Chance” is a short story published in the June 10, 1950, Saturday Evening Post. It clearly reflects the coldness and uncertainty of a U.S. only 5 years into the atomic age and its terrible destructive power. More, it reflects the literary and artistic community’s distrust and remorse of the new scientist in service of the state, as personified by Dr. Hanray.
Conrad Richter, author of A Light in the Forest and Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 1951, achieves, in only 13 pages, a powerful brew of regret, reflection, contrasting views of “Doctors” (a man of science versus his kindly father, a pious man of medicine – the former effecting death, and the latter, healing) and nostalgia. This last noun, nostalgia, often misused, like “odyssey”, is apt for this story, which is a true nostos, a returning home, and the ache or pain (-algia) for it. As in the Odyssey, albeit perhaps a little heavy handedly, Doxy, like Argos, recognizes the wearily returning warrior.
Author: Conrad Richter
Title of Work: “Doctor Hanray’s Second Chance”, in: The Saturday Evening Post Stories: 1950
Publisher: Random House; NYC, NY: 1950: pages 3-15.
Place published: NYC, NY
Annotated by: Richard M. Ratzan
Date of post: October 11, 2011