(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Many homosexual novels deal with the complex problems connected with “coming out.” The expression used to be a joking allusion to so-called closet queens who behaved like “straight” males in the workaday world but kept a wardrobe of glamorous feminine apparel to wear in secret after hours. This fragment from the idiom of the gay subculture has found a niche in the English language because no other suitable term previously existed to describe an important phenomenon. Coming out is no longer a joke but a very serious matter for both male and female homosexuals. It is felt to be a sort of moral and political duty as well as a necessity for psychological health. Homosexuals who refuse to come out of the closet are evading the demonstration of solidarity, leaving all homosexuals more vulnerable to legal and illegal aggression by default.

There are several stages that homosexuals tend to go through in the painful process of coming out. First, there is coming out to one’s self, admitting one is really a homosexual. Then there is the stage of coming out to other homosexuals and entering into the demimonde still inhabited by most homosexuals. Next, there is the stage of coming out to one’s friends and acquaintances. The biggest step, and the one that many homosexuals never dare to take, is coming out to their parents.

The effects of such a confession are unpredictable. Parents may feel guilty, or horrified. They may refuse to be introduced to the same-sex lover of their son or daughter. They may disown their homosexual offspring. Religious-minded parents may ask their homosexual child to receive unwanted prayers and spiritual counseling. Scientifically oriented parents may try to pressure the son or daughter into equally unwanted psychiatric treatment or even such drastic procedures as electric shock therapy. Parents may feel disgraced, even suicidal. In any case, the revelation usually cuts off their hopes of ever having grandchildren through that child, and this may become a source of guilt-inducing recriminations.

Hood is as much about coming out as about dealing with grief over the death of a loved one. Penelope “Pen” O’Grady discovers that the two problems are intricately intertwined. She cannot express her grief as long as she conceals the truth about her sexual orientation and her passionate love affair with Cara Wall, who was killed in a car crash after returning from a vacation trip to the Mediterranean. The enormity of death, especially the death of a loved one, has made everything else in Pen’s life seem trivial.

Emma Donoghue’s novel bears many resemblances to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). Both novels are set in Dublin, although they are separated in time by most of the twentieth century. In both novels there is very little happening on the surface but a great deal going on inside the viewpoint characters’ minds. Both stories take place during rigidly limited time periods. Ulysses covers exactly one day; Hood covers exactly one week during which the heroine (who has the same name as the classical Ulysses’s wife) is teaching elementary school students (like Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus). Just as Stephen Dedalus is haunted by his mother’s death, Pen is haunted by Cara’s. Through Pen’s eyes, the reader gets the feeling of revisiting some parts of Dublin visited in Ulysses with Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. It is the same dear, dirty Dublin, with only a slightly faster pace and a slightly improved economy.

Much of Donoghue’s story is told through flashbacks. Pen and Cara have been lovers ever since high school. In recent years, Pen has been sharing Cara’s bedroom. Mr. Wall is appropriately named because he is as emotionally expressive as a wall and because his bedroom is only separated by a wall from the room where Pen and Cara have to shut each other’s mouths with kisses to smother outcries during mutual orgasms. Cara’s father may feel deep affection for his daughter but he has never been able to express it. Some readers will suspect that the absence of a strong love relationship between father and daughter may have been responsible for Cara’s lesbianism in the first place. His daughter’s death has made the bookish Mr. Wall withdraw even deeper into himself. He seems almost completely helpless. Pen has taken over the housekeeping and all the new and strange but terribly mundane matters involved with deaths, funerals, and interments. Although she and Cara had wild orgies in their bedroom and customarily took long, sensual baths together afterward, Pen has always believed that Mr. Wall was completely oblivious of what was really going on. She is to find out later that the mousy little librarian knew a great deal more than they realized. This discovery leads her to understand that it is not only wrong but nearly impossible to conceal the truth. It prompts her to take the final, most difficult and most dangerous step in the process of coming out, which is revealing the truth to a parent. Pen’s...

(The entire section is 2056 words.)