Education - Books
By: - at February 18, 2013

A Cultural Study of Storytelling in Ireland as Seen in Reading in the Dark

Reading in the Dark
Reading in the Dark"Reading in the Dark" is a story about stories. Seamus Deane delivers artful prose and flowing narratives that capture your attention and take you on a journey through post occupied Ireland and the trauma and crisis of such a time. I am going to focus this paper on the stories he presents throughout the novel. These stories involve ghosts, policemen, informers, exorcisms, IRA skirmishes and magic disappearances. Each of these stories have some sort of symbolism or moral to them and a very specific purpose to be included in the novel.

Each story brings the unnamed narrator closer to finding the truth of his own family story. He has a “sense that his own family’s story remains unsatisfyingly incomplete.” (O’Hehir) An obvious connection is made between this decaying family and the political situation in Northern Ireland at the time. There are so many secrets trying to escape, so many untold stories and so many people who are being haunted by events that occurred or people that have gone missing. According to the senior editor at Spin, “Seamus Deane understands that Ireland's endless ability to spin stories, to tell lies, to make tragedy into comedy and history into drama, is its all-in-all, both the prison and the key.” (O’Hehir) Thus he uses these stories and folk tales to tell us a tale of conflict and ensnarement among the country lands of Ireland.

Katie’s Story
The first story I would like to talk about is “Katie’s Story.” This is a story of a young girl who is sent away to care for some orphaned children. As she stays alone with these children, not allowed to leave the house, she realizes they are haunted by their dead parents. This relates to Ireland’s political struggle. All the future generations will be haunted by the ghosts of those who died fighting for their country or died as a result of an “unfortunate incident.” The children swap hair color, eye color, even gender without realizing, thus bringing Katie to madness. This brings up questions related to the “Troubles,” because the island of Ireland was separated into two sections, a free state and an occupied state. When did they become separate entities? When did they begin to look and act different from one another? Did they ever switch places in look and action? How did all this separation and defining differences affect those living in the areas?

The next story I would like to discuss is that of the policeman thrown over the bridge in retribution for a murder. This policeman, Billy Mahon, supposedly killed a man as he was leaving work. A friend of this man planned his revenge on Billy Mahon. As he threw him over the parapet and into the water, the man said, “This is for Neil Mclaughlin, may you rot in the hell you’re going to, you murdering…” (Deane 22) This shows the incredible corruption and injustice of the policemen of the time. They took out any frustrations on the occupied people of Northern Ireland and got away with it. The occupied people are not all willing to stand for it though, and take their revenge upon the "Others" invading their land. We come to find out that the man who murdered Billy Mahon is the narrator’s grandfather who was caught up in several misdeeds of the time.

Up to the Hill with Two Names
The last story I would like to discuss is of Larry Mclaughlin. He went “up to the hill with two names.” (Deane 86) This in itself is probably a reference to the English occupiers renaming the areas of Ireland to make them more “standardized” and English. Larry takes a shortcut crossing over a brook, which happened to be the border between the occupied northern part of Ireland and the Free State in Southern Ireland. We learn later in the novel that Larry is actually the executioner of Uncle Eddie and the day this story takes places is the day Eddie is killed. Therefore it seems that these IRA members took Eddie across the border into the Free State to dispatch him. As Larry is returning home he is confronted by a beautiful woman. Within half a mile the two are pressing at each other and undressing. Then all of a sudden she vanishes, which essentially traumatizes Larry. If that is not enough he sees a fox looking at him, which barks at him and follows him all the way back into town. This temptress could easily represent England. When the people of Ireland are tempted to assimilate, they “get burned,” they get exiled or worse and can go mad for a lack of connection to the culture they left behind or the one they tried to take on. Larry is left a hollow shell of a man, haunted by this devil woman, he remains in the street looking back for her. This could symbolize the survivors of the “Troubles.” They are left missing their culture, missing their traditions and habits, missing their family members. They are left behind to carry on the story.

Seamus DeaneAll the stories that Deane uses in his novel start out on a grand scale. They can represent the nation in turmoil, the survivors of occupation. But he teases us with them. He throws out a little tidbit to get us interested and then brings the rest of the details along later. Each story shows what harm secrets can do, and ultimately lead us back to our narrator and his own family, who have a secret of their own. The most interesting part is that no one really knows the whole secret. Each person has a small piece to add to the larger picture. Our narrator ends up with the most complete story although we are still left with unanswered questions. Once the narrator gathers everyone’s secrets and compiles them into a story, a sordid family history, he is the one left haunted. He must carry the legacy, the hidden truths, the ghosts and the burden of bearing it alone.

Purchase Reading in the Dark on Amazon.

Works Cited
Deane, Seamus. Reading in the Dark. New York: Vintage International, 1998. 22, 86. Print.
Andrew O’Hehir. Irish Ghost Story. 1997. Web.





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