What kind of reflection or commentary does Elizabeth Bowen's story "Summer Night" offer on the state of Irish society during World War II?

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In Elizabeth Bowen's story "Summer Night," World War II is actively ongoing; however, you would hardly know this from the events in the tale. For most of Irish society, the war is far from their everyday lives, intersecting only in the form of newspaper articles and radio broadcasts describing the latest battles. The characters in the story are all preoccupied with their own lives—both the boredom they contain and the need for relief from that boredom.

The clearest example of this is the main character, Emma, who is pursuing an affair with a man who goes by Robinson. It is clear that she views her infidelity as an adventure as she drives quickly to arrive at Robinson's place. Once there, however, the "adventure" seems to lose its luster, and she becomes uncomfortable with the realities of her choice. The decor of Robinson's house—"the electric clock, the sideboard, the unlit grate, the cold of the leather chairs—put, at every moment when he did not touch her, a gulf between her and him." In this moment, it seems that Emma begins to view her "boring" life as her safe haven. As Emma gets to know him further, Robinson seems to have no interest in her so-called adventure, and so "[t]he adventure (even, the pilgrimage) died at its root, in the childish part of her mind."

In the end, the promise of relief from boredom was more disappointing than relieving for Emma, an idea that can be applied to the larger world of the story. Bowen's picture of Irish society is of people who are continuing with business as usual but desperately wish they were not.

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In her short story "Summer Night," Bowen presents a society that is suffocating from boredom and monotony in the midst of an ever growing conflict. Ireland is far enough removed from the main conflict of World War 2 that it doesn't have much at stake. While London is constantly under siege and experienced air raids and evacuation drills, the wealthy homes in Summer Night are quiet.

The main story details Emma's life, actively pursuing adultery to escape the doldrums of a constrained and wealthy life. In an attempt to spice things up, she engages in an affair, and tries to elicit a response from her husband without actually admitting what happened. Essentially, she's trying to invoke a soap opera-esque drama on her life to create some passion.

All of this goes to show how staunch and uneventful life was for the wealthy Anglo-Irish elites in this time period, painting a negative picture of their callous attitude towards the war and each other. The people in this society were careless, cavalier, and rather dull.

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Here, as in many of her stories, Elizabeth Bowen presents us with a far from flattering portrait of the so-called Anglo-Irish. This is the name given to the Protestant elite who had traditionally administered Ireland during its subjection to the British Empire, but by the time of World War II was no longer in charge and was heading towards terminal decline.

The story's set in 1940. The Irish Free State is neutral in the rapidly developing conflict, yet the Anglo-Irish are still noticeably affected by the War in one way or another. Having been divested of their previously exalted position of political and cultural dominance, the Anglo-Irish lead lives of unimaginable tedium punctuated by the occasional outbreak of decadence. This is reflected in the behavior of Emma, who seeks the excitement of an extra-marital affair to stave off the chronic boredom that constantly threatens to intrude upon her life.

The war offers a chance for the two main characters in the story to escape from themselves and the restrictions of their class; not just Emma, of course, but also her lover, Robinson, who's away from his work and his family. The implication is that the tumultuous events of the War have hastened the decline of elite Irish Protestant society, inciting its members to further derogate from their wider social responsibilities to indulge themselves in acts of carnal abandon.

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