Mirror in My House Essay - Critical Context

Sean O'Casey

Critical Context

Mirror in My House has analogies to a genre, the Bildungsroman, or educational novel, which has been popular at least since the time of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Wordsworth. The protagonist’s life may be recounted as straight autobiography or as fiction, but always there is development and often obstacles to the development as well. Irish examples include Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man (1888). Joyce’s and O’Casey’s books illuminate each other by comparison. O’Casey’s account of the death of Charles Parnell seems to be influenced by Joyce’s, and the pandy bat episode also has its parallel. Joyce’s poverty is of the shabby-genteel kind which comes from improvidence; O’Casey’s is the poverty of working people down on their luck. Joyce’s attitude toward Irish nationalism is cool and condescending; O’Casey’s, if it ends in cynicism, was at one time desperately involved. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, whom O’Casey idolizes and who met a tragic death in the Easter Rising, is the same pacifist and feminist whom Joyce treats comically under the name of McCann.

Mirror in My House can be used as an adjunct to O’Casey’s plays, and on many points they illuminate them; yet they have generally been regarded as masterpieces in their own right. Some of the great events and social movements of the twentieth century are noted here, recorded not by an observer but by a participant. They are set down vividly and passionately; if sometimes the passion seems excessive, more often than not it seems exactly right.