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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 842


Self-sacrifice is the main theme of Bog Child .From the beginning of the book, Dowd makes it clear that sacrifice is not a simple issue. She suggests that life is precious and that giving it up inevitably causes suffering among the people who survive. However, she also shows that...

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Self-sacrifice is the main theme of Bog Child.From the beginning of the book, Dowd makes it clear that sacrifice is not a simple issue. She suggests that life is precious and that giving it up inevitably causes suffering among the people who survive. However, she also shows that self-sacrifice is a noble choice when it is the only way to unite divided people or to preserve the lives of others.

The hunger strike in Bog Child is based on real events in Northern Ireland in 1980 and 1981. At the time, prisoners from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) were treated as common criminals, but they wanted British officials to consider them political prisoners. One of their main demands was that political prisoners be given different uniforms than common criminals had. Ten men, including Provisional IRA leader Bobby Sands, starved themselves to death in an attempt to force British leaders to comply with their demands.

Bog Child,whichbegins shortly after the death of Bobby Sands, presents several complicated opinions about the hunger strikes. Fergus’s mam speaks out against the strike, calling it a tragedy that men kill themselves “all over a few old clothes.” Fergus’s father says the strikers are making a noble sacrifice, but Ma does not see it that way. She says, “Sacrifice is what Jesus did. He saved us all. Who did Bobby Sands save?”

Fergus, too, considers the hunger strikes a waste of life. He agonizes over his brother’s choice to join the strike, and he wonders repeatedly whether Joey understands the harm his death will cause to his family. Fergus predicts that his parents will divorce and that he and his sisters will be ruined by the grief and confusion following their brother’s death.

However, in the climactic scene of the book, Fergus also makes a decision to sacrifice himself. Rather than continuing to smuggle what he believes to be Semtex, Fergus turns himself in to British authorities. In doing this, he accepts the likelihood of imprisonment as well as a real risk of being murdered. Soldiers killed many Provo members—including Uncle Tally at the end of the book—for their involvement in the Troubles. When Fergus takes this risk, he discovers that he has not committed a dire crime at all. His conscience is relieved, and he is granted a second chance at life.

Mel is not as lucky as Fergus is. Although she has committed no crime, her disability makes her an object of suspicion in her Iron Age community. Both famine and social upheaval threaten her family and the man she loves, and she realizes that she can save them if she accepts the blame for her community’s problems. Mel’s sacrifice, unlike Joey’s, brings people together rather than pulling them apart.

Life Is Precious

In spite of its deep explorations of self-sacrifice, Bog Child shows that life is wonderful and worth preserving—even when it is full of conflict and violence. Fergus comes of age in an environment where people kill innocent bystanders just because they live in a particular country and where people kill themselves to make a political point. In the midst of this, he makes a strong positive commitment to life and love.

At the beginning, Fergus wants merely to keep out of the Troubles, but his family and community are so deeply involved that he cannot remain unaffected. As Fergus is forced to make choices about how to interact with the political conflicts around him, he repeatedly chooses to respect life. He tries to convince Joey to give up his hunger strike. He befriends and tries to protect Owain, a soldier who turns out to be a regular guy.

Fergus’s commitment to life falters, however, when he chooses to transport packages he believes to contain Semtex. When he makes this choice, Fergus behaves as though the lives of people close to him have more value than the lives of strangers. However, when Fergus sees a news report that two innocent women died in a bombing, he is overcome by guilt. He realizes that he cannot help take anyone’s life—not even to save his own. He decides to sacrifice his future, and maybe his life, rather than continue to help the Provisional IRA.

Fergus gets a second chance at life when he realizes that his smuggling activities have had nothing to do with the Troubles. At the end of the book, he is heading off to college, relishing the idea of all the living and changing he will do as he grows older. This ending gives a strong sense that, although self-sacrifice may sometimes be necessary, it is always better to choose life if possible.


During the story, both Fergus and Mel are involved in their first experiences with love. Although neither love story has a happy ending, both affairs are depicted with a sense of tenderness and magic. Through these stories, Dowd suggests that love—even love that ends unhappily—is a beautiful and important part of life.

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