Bernard MacLaverty

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What is the significance of Cal seeing Marcella at Mass and realizing she's Catholic?

Quick answer:

The significance of Cal seeing Marcella at Mass and realizing that she is a Catholic is that the two of them are members of the same minority in Ulster, a minority that did not include her husband.

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Bernard MacLaverty's Cal is set against a background of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Cal is a Catholic, one of the minority, and has become involved with the terrorist Irish Republican Army, or IRA. When the IRA murdered a police officer, Cal was the getaway driver. Later, Cal meets the officer's widow, Marcella, a librarian, and finds himself falling in love with her.

The police officer, Robert Morton, was a Protestant Loyalist. In such a sectarian environment, it is natural for Cal to assume that Morton's widow would be a Protestant, too. Most families on both sides of the divide would object vehemently to intermarriage. When Cal sees Marcella at Mass, therefore, he is surprised to discover that she is a Catholic, a member of his own minority and therefore, in an important sense, closer to him than she was to her husband.

Marcella's Catholicism ultimately makes little difference. Cal is too full of guilt and self-hatred to maintain a relationship with anyone, even under the most favorable circumstances. However, the fact that the two of them are part of the same minority does mean that one of the most common reasons for relationships to fail (or not to begin) is not a factor in their case.

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