Rejecting and Embracing the Past: The Challenge of Post-Troubles Identity Construction in Contemporary Northern Irish Novels
Type of DegreeDissertation
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The conflict known as The Troubles which has dominated both real and fictional narratives from and about Northern Ireland since it began in the late 1960s characterizes Northern Ireland as a place steeped in ceaseless and uncompromising sectarian violence. Literature, particularly the novel, has long contributed to this characterization. This dissertation examines three novels written and published as the peace process took hold in the early 1990s which deconstruct and posit alternatives to this standard characterization. It explores how the authors of these novels (Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, and Mary Costello) attempt to counter the traditional literary stereotypes in Troubles fiction by exploring the circumstances and motivations behind the violence and victimization. In so doing, the novels offer alternatives to the stereotypical Northern Irish identities of perpetrator and victim. Glenn Patterson’s Fat Lad explores the viability of rejecting the standard identity in favor of a more cosmopolitan, European one. Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man considers how Northern Irish, British, and American culture create the most extremely violent Northern Irish identity, that of the paramilitary gunman. Mary Costello’s Titanic Town addresses the roles available to women in Northern Irish society and how the Troubles complicate those identities. My discussion is grounded in the premise that novels in general help construct our understanding of and attitudes toward particular nations and cultures. The three novels in this study support that notion by providing particular ways of thinking about the Northern Irish that go beyond the usual tropes created by the Troubles even though the alternative identities imagined in all three novels are untenable. I conclude that such failures are caused by the ongoing dominance of violence as the defining trait of Northern Ireland in both popular and academic culture.