The Green Fool may be seen as a record of a vanished way of life in rural Ireland, similar to the Gaelic autobiographies which emerged in the 1930’s, most notably Tomas o Crohan’s An t-Oileanach (1929; The Islandman, 1934). More generally, The Green Fool belongs in the tradition of rural writing—from Robert Burns in Scotland to Henry Thoreau in the United States—in which the loving observation of natural detail and ritualized social life penetrates to the elemental mythic perception. Kavanagh writes with the awareness that his experience has yielded to him a specialized knowledge of life which is rare in the cosmopolitan world of writing, but he is also wary of being subverted by the demands of the role of naif, of “exploiting” himself.
This work is also continuous with and antagonistic to the work of Yeats, and other observers of folk life, which was an essential part of Irish writing from the end of the nineteenth century. Yeats’s celebration of the peasants’ belief in the supernatural, the fairy folk, in a collection of stories such as The Celtic Twilight (1893), is a literary ancestor, but Kavanagh’s closeness to the peasants allows him to see what Yeats never saw: They are not a purely spiritual people. Kavanagh presents a more rounded picture of the country people because he writes from the inside, sharing their experiences of frustration and poverty. He knows too their mockery of the...
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