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Irish Literature in English Analysis Essay

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Language use and parody is one of the main devices used by Irish poets and writers to create a double vision and link reality and fantasy. One of the functions of the double vision is to offer an escape from reality, and one of the forms this escape often takes is the pastoral. Escape into illusions and exile is also central to the Irish experience as well as to Irish literature. Thesis The ironic use of language serves to create a dreamland, an imaginary world superior to the existing one, into which the imaginative or visionary characters escaped.

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The doubles help Irish writers, instead of the usual one pair of characters create two couples. The two men personify the woman’s, while the two women embody the man’s ideal of the other sex and the disappointing reality, respectively. As in W. B. Yeats The Only Jealousy of Emer the woman’s two main, archetypal aspects are embodied in two different persons: ideal beauty, innocence, and perfection are attributes of Anastasia exclusively, while only the very earthy elements of womanhood are found in Rosie; neither is complete alone (Kiberd, 2002). If there was no completeness attainable in Yeats’s idealistic world, it is even farther away in Murphy’s contemporary one. Yeats at least included Emer, who once, albeit imperfectly, united both the spiritual and the physical aspects in herself, while the other two female characters — Fand the fairy and Eithne Inguba — only embodied these features in their more polarized form. In Murphy’s play no uniting third exists, and out of the two only the earthy survives; the ideal with hardly any vitality and no reality at all perishes (Jones, 2002).

The language of The Old Lady Says ‘No!’ is parodic. The first few pages of the text comprise a virtual anthology of nineteenth-century romantic Irish verse, which in the mouths of Robert Emmet and Sarah Curran serves to mock romanticism in history as in love. The language parodies an established literary tradition. The “four beautiful green fields,” of course, represent Ireland. Johnston mocks Yeats’s romantic conception of sacrifice and heroism by transforming the line into the shrieking of a latter-day harridan. The language of Synge and O’Casey is also mocked as part of Johnston’s exposure of contemporary Ireland’s preoccupation with rhetoric. The Old Lady Says ‘No!’ is mockery and fantasy, since the form of the play borrows from Pirandello, whereas the commentary it offers on Ireland after the Civil War takes seriously Yeats’s own rueful admission in “Meditations in Time of Civil War” about the heart “fed… on fantasies” from which it has “grown brutal” (Kiberd, 2002).

The language of fantasy had never before in Irish drama operated in so devastating a style as in Johnston’s precocious antimelodrama. Most recent playwrights, especially Brian Friel, Thomas Murphy, Thomas Kilroy, Stewart Parker, and Tom Mac Intyre, have returned to irony and parody as part of their much less tolerant attitude toward audience comfort and mass opinion. The general purpose is at least twofold: to dramatize a consciousness at odds with authority or dominant social ideas; and to criticize or attack that same authority or those same dominant social ideas. One of the two characters is the “double,” fighting with, complementing, and sometimes coming to terms with the other.

Thus, ironic relationship to the language is only a part of their style. In many cases, irony and twist of words is used to portray fantastic worlds and unreal events so popular in Irish literature. For instance, what makes Murphy’s treatment so unusual is that he approaches the self from the point of view of the dark side. Jung maintains that one must face the fact that one is not identical with one’s ideal self, and must accept and integrate one’s “shadow” or dark side into oneself in order to have a whole, healthy personality: Murphy in this play goes further: in his darker view of this fallen world, in which the ideal is so far from the real that it cannot be integrated into the whole, and in which the dirty, bespoiled, wicked is not only part but also the very essence of reality, he shows the fallen man and woman as real flesh-and-blood human beings and the ideal ones as only images of the others’ dreams and desires, hence unreal illusions or self-deceptions.

The humans must get rid of the ideal images in order to survive. There is no shadow without the sun; consequently if the sun is eliminated, there will not be a shadow. In the ensuing darkness the fallen, bespoiled people, no longer shocked by their own darkness, can accept themselves and each other (Jones, 2002). The elaborate, surrealistic dream scenes in Scene eight, for instance, reveal John Joe’s confused state of mind: his fear of the authority figures, who merge into each other and appear as allies against him; and his repressed sexual desires mixed with shame (as Mona, his love, then a family friend, Agnes, appear one by one in his bed, scantily dressed to tempt or attack him, respectively, in the presence of others). Most of all these scenes dramatize his terror of the necessary split in his life if he emigrates, which is expressed in the authority characters’ attempts to scalp him and collect his soul in a bag together with those of other emigrants (Sean, 1995).


In sum, ironic use of language only partially reflects double vision and parody. The function of this double is the personification of all the evil, shameful, dark sides of the personal unconscious, haunting, threatening, or destroying the ego if it is not integrated into the whole self. Characters, in their quest for wholeness, have to undertake the difficult task of facing their shadow figures and dealing with them. Irish writers use double vision to link and separate, at the same time, reality and fantasy.


Jones, M. L. (2002). Contemporary Irish Drama & Cultural Identity. Intellect L & D E F a E.

Kiberd, D. (2002). Irish Classics (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Sean, O. T. (1995). Repossessions: Selected Essays on the Irish Literary Heritage. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press.

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