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Comparison of Two Irish Writers (no Bibliography)

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Casey Imperiale

Irish Lit

Final Exam Paper

An important part of Irish literature is family and roots. Where the character comes from and who his family is. Your parents make you what and who you are. In two important pieces of work from Synge and Joyce we see that a character's father is a huge influence on who and what that character is, for good or ill.

In Playboy of the Western World, we hear much about Christy's father but only meet him at the end of the tale. It can be inferred that although Christy was lying about having murdered his father, he was quite truthful about his father's less than sterling qualities. Mahon Senior seems to be a violent, alcoholic, bullying lout of a man, although he becomes a different man when confronted by the new and more confident Christy.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Simon Dedalus is not as flagrantly unfit to be a father as Mahon Senior, but neither is he exemplary. He is at best a large and distant figure for most of Stephen's childhood, and he becomes sotted with drink and reminiscences after he's proven almost completely inept with his money. He is genteel and does the best he can when the boy is older, attempting to be involved with his life through school, but by this time Stephen as a teenager feels only disdain and sees his father as a failure before removing himself from his family altogether for the sake of his art.

Both fathers may at one point have tried to be a 'good parent'. Each, however, is in his own way a ne'er-do-well. Both give inspiration to their sons; although I doubt any parent wants to give his child the inspiration to cut and run. Both boys end up leaving to seek their individual fortunes in different ways; one wistfully and one with violence. The sons also cling to the idea of distance- in each story, both decide to go somewhere far away from the lives they'd previously had.

In each story, the lesson is what not to be. Stephen shows no signs of becoming a wilted man of forced optimism like his father, and shows no signs of needing to disappear into a wine bottle to pursue his art. Christy when the play ends is showing signs of becoming a bully, at least to his father. In fairness it's hard to blame him for wanting to give back some of the abuse he's had to take all his life. Also noted is that Stephen never lies although perhaps his father might have, and Mahon Senior doesn't seem to have Christy's gift of telling yarns. Each son becomes in part his father's opposite.

The struggle toward finding the real self is necessary in any person's life. Some just make it harder than they have to be. Stephen seems much more complex than Christy, perhaps because he has been educated and Christy has not. Something that makes a big difference as well is the format of the story. In Playboy, we have only a short play, which is of necessity told in the third person viewpoint. Portrait gives a whole novel dedicated to Stephen's life and thoughts.

Both young men needed to learn things from the mistakes of their fathers. Stephen learns the courage of a true artist- to distance oneself from everything except art and not get so caught in the petty details of everyday life that true beauty passes by unnoticed. Christy learns the courage to do everything his father accuses him of never having had the gumption to do; his toil on the road and his coming to terms with what he thinks is his father's death bring out his full potential. Each son gains- not what he wants most- but the tools to help him gain his greatest desire.

Poetry is a difficult concept. Placing a poet within a certain context is even more difficult. Most poets would say they dislike being labeled. Unfortunately as labeling is necessary categories are chosen, sometimes arbitrarily. Yeats, Heaney and Boland are often placed in classes for British Literature or Modern Poetry. All these poets are Irish it's true, but they all belong in fairly different classes. Although place identity in their poetry says a lot about where a writer's heart is, it's



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