Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 910
Eighteen-year-old Fergus McCann, the main character of Bog Child , is trying to make sense of life in an environment of murder and terrorist activity. He is an empathetic and humane person who has long cherished a dream of becoming a doctor. Although he knows his brother Joey...
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- Critical Essays
Eighteen-year-old Fergus McCann, the main character of Bog Child, is trying to make sense of life in an environment of murder and terrorist activity. He is an empathetic and humane person who has long cherished a dream of becoming a doctor. Although he knows his brother Joey is involved in the Troubles, he does not know his family is involved in other ways as well.
Throughout the novel, Fergus “sees” events happening when he is not present. He dreams the story of Mel, the child he finds in the bog. Even when he is not near Joey, Fergus vividly imagines his brother wasting away from hunger. His extreme empathy makes it believable that he is willing to sacrifice himself to prevent more bloodshed at the end of the novel.
Joey McCann, Fergus’s brother, is serving a prison term at Her Majesty’s Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, for working with the Provisional IRA. He follows the leader, Bobby Sands, in a hunger strike calling for special treatment for political prisoners. He takes the position that it is worth sacrificing his own life and his family’s happiness to further the political goals of the Provisional IRA.
Fergus’s parents, whom he calls Mam and Da, are in conflict through much of the novel. Mam, who did not grow up in Northern Ireland, sees little sense in the violence and death of the Troubles. Before Joey joins the hunger strikers, she mocks the strikers, saying they are killing themselves over clothes.
Da believes that the strikers, Joey included, are making a principled stand against a tyrannical leader. Unlike Mam, he does not try to convince Joey to give up his strike. There is some suggestion that this is partly out of deference to his brother Tally, a feared bomb maker for the Provisional IRA. By the end of the novel, Fergus convinces Da to choose Joey’s life over his political convictions. Da allows doctors to drip feed Joey and save his life.
Theresa and Cath McCann, Fergus’s younger sisters, are considered too young to be included in making adult decisions about Joey. However, they are clearly affected by his decision to go on the hunger strike. Cath tries to convince Joey to eat by making him a card with a collage of foods. Theresa wavers between respect for her brother’s decision and desire to prevent his death. When she learns that he is being fed involuntarily while unconscious, she says, “That’s good, isn’t it? If he doesn’t know, then he hasn’t given in?”
Fergus and his uncle, Tally McCann, have a close relationship, although on Tally’s side it is filled with lies. Throughout most of the novel, Fergus believes that Tally is a weak figure who takes no stand in the Troubles and yet cannot bring himself to move away and leave them behind. In the end, Fergus learns that Tally is a bomb maker who is responsible for killing many people. Uncle Tally is shot by police at the end of the book. The police claim he resisted arrest, but Fergus knows Tally did not keep a gun.
Fergus also misunderstands Michael Rafters, Joey’s best friend. Throughout most of the book, Fergus believes that Michael is a member of the Provisional IRA. In the end, it becomes clear that Rafters is just a petty smuggler.
Private Owain Jenkins is a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. People in Fergus’s town, who are mostly Catholic sympathizers with the Provos, consider RUC members to be enemies. However, during the course of the story, Fergus discovers that Owain is just an ordinary, likeable guy. Owain is ultimately killed by one of Uncle Tally’s bombs.
Felicity O’Brien is the archaeologist who studies Mel. She likes Fergus and welcomes her to join her as she studies Mel’s remains.
Cora O’Brien, Felicity’s daughter, is Fergus’s first love. At the end of the novel, her mother sends her to live with her father in Michigan.
In his dreams, Fergus relives the story of Mel, the bog child. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for her community mirrors Fergus’s, although the two stories have very different endings. Mel’s story provides readers with a reminder that self-sacrifice can indeed be necessary and noble.
Boss Shaughn is a sort of tribal leader in Mel’s community. His harsh, cruel behavior causes people to suffer and ultimately gets him killed.
His son, Rur, is in love with Mel. She sacrifices herself at the end of the story partly because she believes Rur killed his father. After his father’s death, Rur becomes a good leader for his people. At the end of the story, Mel confesses to Rur that she is afraid of being hung. She asks him to stab her instead, and he does.
Brennor, Mel’s brother, murders Boss Shaughn. He does not have to answer for his crime because Mel sacrifices herself first.
Mel’s Ma and Da are loving, protecting parents. Unlike the members of their wider community, they do not believe Mel’s dwarfism is a sign of evil. However, they are not as cruelly hurt by Mel’s self-sacrifice as the McCann family is because of Joey’s. This is because Mel’s self-sacrifice accomplishes what it is meant to accomplish: it saves her family and unites her community.