Mother Ireland Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Mother Ireland Analysis

Edna O’Brien

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Mother Ireland Analysis

The inclusion of Queen Macha of the red tresses early in the quasi-history of Ireland opening her autobiography is a key to the auburn haired O’Brien’s own preoccupations. Macha, the seventy-sixth Irish monarch, ruled Ireland in 377 b.c.e., having defeated one uncle in battle and married another. Disguised as a leper (the ultimate outsider), O’Brien claims, Macha charmed her male opponents and made them her slaves. So much for the romance that is behind much of O’Brien’s Ireland. It is, after all, a country from which many of the best and brightest, such as O’Brien herself and her literary heroes, Joyce and Samuel Beckett, escape as soon as they can.

Those who escape, however, are often, like O’Brien, blessed and cursed with long memories. Her recall of the minutiae of daily living is astounding. So too are the feelings of guilt, sprung from loneliness, the Catholic church, the family—father and mother—which haunt her. This melancholy is all the more poignant because these sad currents flow in a scene of great natural beauty and among details from all O’Brien’s senses. The reader can smell the reek of turf fires burning, feel the itch of woollen jumpers, taste the sugar-sprinkled bread-and-butter sandwiches, hear the thumbnail crack of lice fine combed onto a newspaper, and see the ink-stained schoolroom floor.

These impressions are conveyed by a keen, if erratic, lexicographer with a burgeoning delight in words. Even if “dirament” is not in the Oxford English Dictionary and “hoi polloi” is wrongly used to suggest the aristocracy, a host of other often latinate terms rush to fill in the Irish scene. The impression...

(The entire section is 697 words.)