The 'miserable' Irish Childhood: The Utilization of Young Narrators as a Window Into National Socio-economic Status

Open Access
Farrell, Genevieve Ellen
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jessica Jane O'hara, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • English
  • Irish Literature
  • 20th Century Novels
The utilization of child narrators in contemporary Irish literature is not only a stylistic decision, but also effectively serves as socio-political commentary on Ireland’s recent history. Narration filtered through the eyes of a child provides the reader with a heightened transparency, as young people lack jaded life experience that would otherwise influence social description. The narrators in the following novels, The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe, The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton, and Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane employ simplistic, candid language to visibly capture coming-of-age situations. The concept of the ‘miserable Irish childhood’ readily emerges during the course of the novels, as each coming-of- age story capitalizes on obstacles and struggles unique to growing up in Ireland. As personal experiences shape each of the young narrators discussed, simultaneously transpiring national events shape Ireland. Prime Minister Éamon de Valera facilitates a period of cultural hegemony, which deeply impacts the narrators within The Butcher Boy and The Speckled People. Further, as the narrators reflect on their own childhood, the reader sees elements of Frantz Fanon’s three stages of decolonization, imitation, return to traditional values, and a new identity. The undeniable challenges that come with the final stage of independence are evident within The Butcher Boy and The Speckled People. In Breakfast on Pluto and Reading in the Dark, the terrorist organization the Irish Republican Army plays a crucial role in the narrator’s coming-of-age story. How each narrator handles the trauma of sectarian violence reflects the polarized state of political unrest exacerbated by the IRA’s controversial methods.