Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Other Side, Mary Gordon explores the dynamics of Irish American families, examining the characteristics that set the Irish American experience apart from that of other immigrants and their descendants. While visiting Ireland for the first time Dan MacNamara thinks of his family that “they could never be happy, any of them, coming from people like the Irish. Unhappiness was bred into the bone, a message in the blood, a code of weakness.”

Although they cannot escape their heritage, Ellen and Vincent represent two different reactions to it. Ellen rails against her past and everything connected with it, condemning the church, mocking her husband’s fondness for Irish music, and reviling anyone who romanticizes Ireland or the Irish. Vincent, on the other hand, although he came from poverty and a hard family life, has not let hatred poison his life, and he has fond memories of Ireland and the Irish. He has allowed his background to enrich his life in the new land rather than poison it. He has accepted the new, but he has not forgotten nor rejected the old.

The Irish heritage has power over even the third and fourth generations of American MacNamaras. Cam and Dan, who visit the “old country” together as adults along with Dan’s children, Darci and Staci, have strong reactions to the “old sod.” Dan, accepting and forgiving like his grandfather, does not like Ireland. He sees it as a source of anger, hate, and unhappiness,...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

The Other Side Themes

If Gordon's immediate social concern is the family, her questions are those raised in all her fiction, those of individual moral...

(The entire section is 573 words.)