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Northern Irish and Drama of the Troubles Essay

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021


The Northern Irish literature is shaped by unique themes and ideas, motifs, and stylistic devices which determine its uniqueness and national features. The miracle of the liberation of the self, of finding peace and love among and within themselves, or of discovering some creative activity, happens in or through an unexpected action of special significance. Thesis The theme of trouble dominates in Northern Irish literature reflected in the struggle between the main characters and conflict themes.

The brief description of Irish literature

In Northern Irish literature, characters struggle to grow up and to grow toward self-recognition and self-realization. Yet no peaceful growth into adulthood seems possible. One of the features of ‘troubles’ is the presence of violence: the accumulated, great repressed forces and tensions burst out through violence. Life “troubles” help characters to become adults, to grow into independent and integrated personalities only through much suffering, violence, and sin. For instance, Murphy’s characters are torn by desires which are sometimes definite and conscious, sometimes vague and uncertain. Fantasy, as one of its main functions, helps to articulate and deal with these desires (Lee 1997).

The desires Murphy’s characters struggle with are sometimes disturbing and threaten the integrity of the personality, making self-acceptance impossible; in other cases through desires, the characters — consciously or unconsciously -move toward finding or regaining a lost wholeness and peace with themselves. In the course of this quest for integrity, some characters in earlier plays clash primarily with their environment, while later they have to face themselves, come to terms with their past experiences, their memories, or their split personalities. These motifs are apparent in works of such play writers as Anne Devlin The Way-Paver (1986) and Ourselves Alone (1985). In depicting the actions of the human soul, many Irish writers use fantastic means to express desires in both meanings of the word “express” — to manifest and to expel — and sometimes even to fulfill them (Jones, 2002).

In many works the theme of troubles is shaped by the dilemma of whether to emigrate or stay at home — this crucial Irish question -is dramatized in the conscious as well as the unconscious struggle of the character. Critics admit that economic crisis and social inequalities caused the popularity of this theme and the importance of fight and struggle for every individual (Lee 1997). The elements culminate in kinds of dreams of unconscious fears and distorted desires, projected on stage. In such works as The Home Pay (2005), Afterplay (2002), and The Bear (2002) by Brian Friel the external world is presented and the conflicts take place more definitely inside the characters. To achieve self-realization, they have to face not only their environment but also, with greater difficulty, their selves, and their own conscious and unconscious desires.

The unconscious can hardly be projected onto the stage without fantastic means; fantasy is the right medium for conveying it. Although the struggle goes on in his soul, he first has to sort things out with his environment. So the liberating action, after all, goes on not so much within s character as in his violent clash with the people around him. In the plays by Sarah Marie Jones (Tribes (1990), Fighting the Shadows (1992), Wingnut and the Sprog (1994), The Hamster Wheel (1991) and A Night in November (1994) a character’s act of rebellion brings about a fantastic effect: by shouting out the secrets of his family and those of he neighbors to the street he violently breaks the unwritten rules of provincial life. Doing so he also breaks the spell: once secrets — this good soil for gossip, hypocrisy, and the poisonous ruining of human relationships — come out into the open, they lose their dark force. (Lee 1997).

The theme of troubles helps characters to their narrow-minded, petty surroundings, and become able to deal with them and find their place, not by accepting their dominance and adapting to it but by maintaining their own values and his independent personality. In Poor Mouth Flan O’ Brien (1996) portrays that a person does not need to go into exile any longer, and is a decision to stay is not “forced” on him but is entirely his own choice. In a twofold, simultaneously external and internal action a person both breaks the silence isolating the people around him and allows his suppressed anger and disgust to come to the surface; he becomes an autonomous personality (Sean, 1995). The magic power of his publicly uttered words makes him an adult overnight, and this is a real miracle. This projection of fears and desires does not, however, lead to characters finding a solution to his dilemma, not even to his seeing more clearly where he is. The form chosen by Laurence McKeown for this drama is what he called in a vision the “dreaming back” to describe one of four stages he believed the soul passes through in its progress toward reincarnation. “Dreaming back” is his variation on the familiar conceit of the events of a drowning man’s life passing rapidly before his eyes. Gary Mitchell in his play In A Little World of Our Own at the Peacock depicts life troubles and search for self which allows the main character to understand the truth of life and essence of existence (Jones, 2002).


In sum, the contemporary Irish drama is shaped by the theme of trouble which helps an author to create a story conflict and underline a search for self and unique personality. This action is often verbal, following the magic power that the Irish have always attributed to words; sometimes the action is physical, and if so, almost always it is violent.


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

Lee, Joseph. (1997). The Modernization of Irish Society 1848-1918. Dublin : Gill & Macmillan.

O’ Brien, F. (1996). The Poor Mouth, Dalkey Archive Press. Required.

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

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