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Cal Themes

Maclaverty presents the conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics as volatile but, ultimately, pointless. At one point, the narrator says,

People were dying every day, men and women were being crippled and turned into vegetables in the name of Ireland. An Ireland which never was and never would be.

In the novel, Protestants do terrible things to Catholics, like burning down the McCluskeys' home. However, Catholics also do terrible things to Protestants, like murdering a cop, Robert Morton, Marcella's husband. Skeffington encourages Cal to think only of the cause and not individual people (relatively innocent people who might get hurt or killed as a result of their actions), remaining chillingly remorseless about the damage done to individuals. On the other hand, Cal thinks,

It was funny . . . how Protestants were 'staunch' and Catholics were 'fervent.'

In other words, people tend to describe their own actions and beliefs in the most positive way while describing even the incredibly similar actions and beliefs of their enemy in a negative light. Both sides are stubborn and violent, but each presents itself as steadfast and principled. All of this seems to point to the idea that violence ultimately accomplishes little or nothing; in addition, Maclaverty seems to draw attention to the notion that we tend to present ourselves in the best possible light and our enemies in the worst—even when we are remarkably similar in thought and deed.

Cal also spends the entirety of the novel dealing with the guilt he feels over his participation in the murder of Robert Morton.

He felt that he had a brand stamped in blood in the middle of his forehead which would take him the rest of his life to purge.

His guilt keeps him trapped, to a degree, in the past, and what he does focus on in the present is his obsession with Morton's widow, Marcella. He seems unable to think ahead, to consider his future; he can only think of where he's been, never where he's going. He is like Ireland. Marcella says,

"Ireland. It's like a child. It's only concerned with the past and the present. The future has ceased to exist for it."

Both Cal and Ireland seem stuck, unable to really take any productive steps forward. This not only supports the theme I mentioned earlier about how unproductive violence is, but it also supports another theme: that an inability or unwillingness to consider one's future leads to stagnation, dissatisfaction, and even corruption.