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Title:Irish disability: Postcolonial narratives of stunted development
Author(s):Gray, Sarah M.
Director of Research:Valente, Joseph
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Valente, Joseph
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hansen, James A.; Mahaffey, Vicki; Koshy, Susan
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Irish Literature
Disability: Modernism
Kavanagh, Patrick
O'Brien, Edna
McCabe, Patrick
Beckett, Samuel
O'Brien, Flann
Yeats, W.B.
Doyle, Roddy
O'Neill, Jamie
Deane, Seamus
MacLaverty, Bernard
Abstract:In his 1941 poem The Great Hunger, a scathing critique of rural idealism in mid-twentieth-century Ireland, Patrick Kavanagh defines his Irish anti-hero by the “impotent worm on his thigh,” a “no-target gun” that represents his purposeless masculinity as life becomes “dried in [his] veins.” Twenty years later, Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy presents the coming-of-age tale of Caithleen Brady, an Irish colleen deemed “mad in one eye” by her foreign suitor before having herself sterilized and committing suicide. Both bring to mind Samuel Beckett’s grotesquely disfigured and confined narrators who prefigure Francie Brady, the mentally ill and murderous villain-hero of Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel The Butcher Boy. In this first decade of the twenty-first century, Jamie O’Neill and Roddy Doyle look back one hundred years to the fight for Irish Independence and pen nationalist soldiers fueled by the bitterness and suffering that attend their disability and disenfranchisement—Doyler Doyle of At Swim, Two Boys walks with a limp and Henry Smart of A Star Called Henry fights British soldiers and abusive Irish clerics with his father’s wooden leg. As this catalogue attests, physical and mental disabilities permeate colonial and postcolonial Ireland in the wake of a surge of Irish nationalism demanding, as W.B. Yeats writes in Cathleen Ni Houlihan, that a true Irishman “must give [Ireland] all” to the point of martyrdom. In bringing together disability studies and postcolonial Irish literature, I investigate the creation of a standard national narrative for accepted ability and development, the breakdown of these categories, and the role of national discourse in isolating the “disabled” as it simultaneously allies physical and mental disability with moral and intellectual deviancy and corruption. The proliferation of physical impairment, spiritual frustration, and social unrest displayed in modern Irish literature critiques the nationalist banner that promised a cure for Irish cultural and political imprisonment. I argue that rather than championing a middle-class triumph over deviancy and demonstrating the development of Irish stability, postcolonial Irish literature exposes Irish development—religious, national, cultural, and individual—as inevitably stunted by both imperial narratives of Irish disability and the equally oppressive nationalist narratives that came to replace them in the Irish postcolonial imaginary. By reading postcolonial Irish narratives through the framework of disability, I venture beyond a critical reliance on the oppression of colonialism to examine the stunting effects of an Irish Catholic nationalism developed by adherence to a pure ideal that rejects sexual, religious, and cultural difference as disabling to an Irish nation. Rather than simply emphasizing an Irish postcolonial triumph over imperial narratives of Irish disability, my dissertation yields a fresh approach that reveals the inevitable stunting of Irish narratives of progress both by imperial policy and the compounding oppression of normative Irish nationalism that further “disables” and marginalizes those deemed physically and mentally unfit for national inclusion.
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Sarah Marie Gray
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-25
Date Deposited:2011-05

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