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Mirror in My House combines six books previously published: I Knock at the Door (1939), Pictures in the Hallway (1942), Drums Under the Window (1945), Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well (1949), Rose and Crown (1952), and Sunset and Evening Star (1954). The books tell the significant events in O’Casey’s life from his birth in Dublin until roughly 1954, near the end of his life. The term autobiography should, however, be used with caution for a number of reasons. First, the books are less a continuous narrative than a series of “vignettes” (O’Casey’s term), vivid scenes often dramatized with abundant dialogue; for many, James Joyce’s term “epiphanies” is appropriate: The vignette may not represent a crucial event in O’Casey’s life but may rather reveal something about him or his situation. (At one point O’Casey seems to have projected the work as a series of short stories.) Aspects of O’Casey’s life may be either played down (for example, his support of the Soviet Union) or blown up (his literary quarrels) beyond what the reader might consider their real importance. A good example of his subjective approach is his treatment of the Easter Rising of 1916. It records, first, O’Casey’s abortive attempt to advise the Irish Volunteers on military strategy; then comes a description of looting by the slum dwellers; then follows an account of O’Casey’s own experiences as a neutral taken into temporary custody by the British; and finally O’Casey offers an imaginative account of the execution of some of the rebels (which he could not have witnessed).

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As part of an autobiography, the emphasis is naturally on what O’Casey experienced, but the first three parts convey the cynicism which also appears in The Plough and the Stars (1926), while the last expresses a kind of grudging acceptance of the rebellion. The poverty of the area is brought up not only in the looting but also in an episode in which O’Casey is able to feed himself and his mother much better than usual because a British soldier who is guarding him compels the neighborhood shopkeeper to give him an adequate supply of food. O’Casey’s technique is selective but emotionally and thematically coherent.

As a dramatist, O’Casey began his career in the tradition of naturalism, but from The Silver Tassie (1928) on, he made increased use of expressionistic and symbolic techniques; in the autobiographies, he frequently shifts from a relatively conventional narrative and descriptive style to passages which cannot be taken literally. For example, at the end of Pictures in the Hallway, the reader suddenly finds himself in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 with the defeated Irish soldiers looting for food; gradually, however, the account moves to the present, where in the Church of Ireland parish where O’Casey worshiped as a youth, a low-church (Orange) faction is pitted against a faction (O’Casey’s) which either is Anglo-Catholic or is so regarded by its opponents; the same disputes are going on as in the days of William III, with the happy exception that in St. Burnupus’ parish the Orange faction is put to rout.

Large sections, too, would have to be classified as rhetoric, being argumentative, verbose, and heavily documented; this is true of O’Casey’s quarrels with the Catholic church. Style, too, can be unconventional. Generally O’Casey writes in the third person, in an “Irish” manner which presumably echoes his own colloquial speech; nevertheless, there are numerous purple passages and others written in what George Orwell sarcastically called “Basic Joyce,” somewhat in the manner of Finnegans Wake (1939).

O’Casey affects to look down on Latin, but the text is studded with Latin phrases. These are usually conventional phrases purposely altered, with grammatical correctness sacrificed to satiric effect. Trio juncta in lacunae, per amica violentio lunee, for example, combines a definition of the Trinity with the title of a book by William Butler Yeats, with various substitutions.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 52

Ayling, Ronald, ed. Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969.

Krause, David. Sean O’Casey and His World, 1976.

Lowery, Robert G. Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies: An Annotated Index, 1983.

Lowery, Robert G., ed. Essays on Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies, 1981.

O’Connor, Garry. Sean O’Casey: A Life, 1988.

Scrimgeour, James R. Sean O’Casey, 1978.

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