Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many of the stories in George Moore’s The Untilled Field (1903) analyze the effect on the individual when a community, sharing a common religious belief and social needs, experiences repressive measures that discourage the development of both. Moore believed the spiritual and physical fertility of the Irish people was atrophying because the Roman Catholic Church, in its zeal to promote the Heavenly Kingdom, was stifling earthly life. The stories in this anthology portray an ironic situation: spiritual deterioration resulting from an overconcern with spiritual well-being. In Ireland, the people’s deep faith caused them to accept the guidance of the church in all aspects of their lives, temporal as well as spiritual. In many of the stories, and in “Julia Cahill’s Curse” in particular, clerical domination is so overpowering that individual members have no latitude for self-expression. As a result, the people are forced to move away; both the church and the community cease to exist.

The central conflict is that between humanism and orthodox religion. The protagonist, Julia Cahill, is a spirited, lively young woman who attracts the young men in this Irish village. In defiance of the traditional authority of the father to arrange a suitable marriage for his daughter, she insists on her prerogative to enjoy the company of young men at dances and eventually to choose her spouse based on her own feelings. In other words, she intends to enjoy her...

(The entire section is 403 words.)