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Women and the “Troubles” as Reflected in One by One in the Darkness Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2019


Deirdre Madden is an Irish writer, who creates really worthwhile works and wins various awards, which serve as the best recognition among the writers and the readers. Among her awards, there are the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Hennessy Award. Her vision of the reality and the ability to present the idea paying attention to numerous details – this is what attracts the readers of different ages and ranges.

Her best known works The Birds of the Innocent Wood (1988), Nothing Is Black (1994), and One by One in the Darkness (1996). Each of these works has its own genre and peculiarities. The peculiar feature of One by One in the Darkness is the fact that this novel is all about social realism, its troubles, and consequences.

The theme of women and their role in the society is burning indeed. They face too many troubles and try to solve any problems in different ways: some of them prefer to keep silence and stick to the rules offered by someone else, and some women want to underline their significance and have the right to follow their own desires. One of the issues reflected in One by One in the Darkness by Deirdre Madden is the idea of how women cope with the difficulties they face almost each day because of the Troubles.

The Plot of the Story

One by One in the Darkness is the story about three sisters, with rather different ambitions and life purposes, and their mother, Emily, who is a strong Catholic woman, suffering after her husband’s death. Emily lives in the shadow of that terrible event, when her husband was shot.

She does not want to demonstrate her fears and dependence on the society. However, her restraint and keeping silence reveal her. This novel is mainly about women’s lives, their struggles, and challenges of the Troubles. The society creates certain rules in order to subdue people and make the live in one and the same way.

One of the sisters, Sally, accepts such way of life without any doubts – she stays in the town and works as a teacher in one of the local schools. After her father’s death, she cannot but afraid everything outside. She was afraid to be killed, to be forgotten, to be alone. Her fears and constant thinking about someone else is one of her best troubles. This is what was on her way and this is what she could not solve at all.

In her turn, another sister, Helen, chooses an absolutely different style of life. She becomes an independent solicitor and deals with numerous terroristic cases in order to render justice. When Helen was a child, she remembered one day, when Tony killed a fox and brought its skin to the class.

The smell was terrible; that smell never left little Helen, even when she grew up. Tony said once that there was no one on the world who could be braver than Tony was. One day, Tony died. When Helen looks at the field with numerous foxes running there, she remembers Tony’s words and realizes how unfair and unpredictable the life is. She heard how the bomb exploded, the bomb that killed Tony and their father.

This sound, that smell, and all those words cannot leave Helen, and cannot allow her to live a normal life. Lots of women live their memories. They cannot forget what have already happened and try to connect their past with their present. To my mind, Helen is one of such characters, and her trouble is that she does not want to think about her future, but is upset because of the past, and cannot enjoy the present.

The last but not the worst sister is Cate, a girl, who decides to leaver her own home and be involved into the business she is really fond of. However, with time, Cate faces certain problems, and she has nothing to do but return home. Even if she does not want to do this, she has to. “Home was a huge sky; it was fields of poor land fringed with hawthorn and alder. It was grey water, it was a mad wind; it was a solid stone house where the silence was uncanny. Cate was going home.” (Madden 3)

When their mother gets to know that Cate is pregnant, she becomes very upset, as it contradicts all Catholic rules. Cates does not have the right to give a birth to a baby without being married. It is a sin and a shame for their family. Her fear to disappoint her family and her desire to live her own life – this is her major trouble. The idea that she may be ashamed in the society she lives in is one of the most frequent thoughts in her mind.

However, all these characters cannot even guess that unwanted pregnancy is one of the smallest troubles they will face. After their father is shot, people around are afraid to leave their houses and spend lots of time outside. Even Sally refuses to teach children as she thinks that one day she may be shot with all the children in the class.

Women and Their Role in the Society

One by One in the Darkness traces some of the troubles and conflicts, which take place during the 1960s and 1970s. Violence and numerous crimes happen more frequently. People cannot do anything to prevent or to be saved. The life of the society cannot be controlled as it should be. The death of sister’s father affects not only their families. The life of each individual is going to be changed somehow.

The situation in Ireland in the middle of the 1900s was not safe. The rights of women have no power. “Women were defined in terms of property relationships and trough their relationships with men, men were defined in relation to one another through property and familial bonds.” (Fields 109)

A woman has no right to leave her husband and choose another man without a certain agreement with her current husband. In the situation described in One by One in the Darkness, women have a kind of dependence with their husbands, however, some of them just do not hurry up to get married and be dependable. Even in the political system, the rights of women were diminished – gender issues were important during the criminal cases. (Tonge 63)

Every woman in the novel has certain fear: Cate is afraid of her family reaction to her pregnancy, the mother, is afraid that her family may be separated or even killed, Sally is constantly thinning about shootings and possible death. Of course, Irish women have lots of reasons to have numerous fears. However, the major theme of the novel is to find the only right decision and follow it.

Deirdre Madden is not the only writer who speaks upon women and the troubles, which may foil them. One of the modern writers is Marian Keyes from Ireland. There are so many points of view as for the significance of the Troubles on women’s possibilities to resist male domination. Madden and Keyes are one of those women, who prove their importance and their right to follow own dreams and rules. (Byrne and Leonard 100)

The Troubles and Women

The Troubles was a period in Northern Ireland characterized by numerous ethno-political conflicts. This period had a certain impact on lots of European countries. It started in 1960s and lasted until 1998. In the novel by Madden, the father of the family was killed because of some misunderstandings caused by that very period and conflicts. Taking into consideration the events after the father’s death, the influence of the Troubles on women was really considerable. Women have a kind of dependence of their men.

If some conflicts take the lives away, women face numerous difficulties from different perspectives: personal losses, money support, and the place in the society. Lots of men cannot cope with the situations on streets, and start drinking and spend much time outside in order to struggle for their own rights. Such actions also cause the increasing of divorces, and men have nothing to do but make their women free. So, the consequences of the Troubles were tragic both for men and women.


The Troubles was a significant period in the history of Northern Ireland. People cannot live a normal live and should struggle for their lives and rights. Women suffer because of constant absence of their husbands, husbands wanted to make better future for their families.

Those times were reflected in many works by different Irish writers, and Deirdre Madden is one of them. Her One by One in the Darkness presents a clear picture of the events during the Troubles. Women have plenty of fears, and each of them has a single reason. This writer proves that women have enough powers to fight and prove their rights in order to create a better world with or without the help of men.

Works Cited

Byrne, Anne and Leonard, Madeleine. Women and Irish Society: A Sociological Reader. Beyond the Pale Publications, 1997.

Fields, Rona, M. Northern Ireland: Society Under Siege. Transaction Publishers, 1980.

Madden, Deirdre. One by One in the Darkness. Faber and Faber, 1996.

Tonge, Jonathan. Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change. Pearson Education, 2002.

Keyes, Marian. Available at <>

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