Reviewing The Shadow Of A Gunman English Literature Essay

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Sean O'Casey's attitude to life was from first to last combative. His career as playwright falls into several phases which can be clarified through a consideration of O'Casey's attitude to war. In his early days as a writer, before 1914, O'Casey was an ardent nationalist and a supporter of the militant aims of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Even after the Dublin railway strike of 1911, O'Casey was not yet in favour of international socialism. He hoped instead for an alliance between workers and republican separatists. The lockout of unionized workers in Dublin of 1913 changed his mind. Thereafter socialism began to take precedence in his world-view, although it was not until after the Russian Revolution of 1917 that he saw what this meant. Thereafter, he made the 1916 Easter Rising the centre of his artistic statement. In condemning the Rising he was turning back on militant republicanism and, indeed, on war.

O'Casey witnessed the brutality of the forces of law and order against workers. He was appointed secretary of a relief committee. Then a workers' defence was formed, the Irish Citizen Army. In November 1913, the National Volunteers were founded, the group destined to be the main fighting body in 1916. O'Casey was antagonistic to them from the start because of their supporters included many people who had been anti-worker during the 1913 strike. After he resigned as secretary of the Irish Citizen Army, he took no further part in the gathering of the political strom which broke in 1916. As O'Casey saw it, and as he makes clear in his history of the Citizen Army, the labour movement betrayed itself by allying with the republican nationalist movement.

The Shadow of a Gunman presents an individual stage action against the broader background of historical events, in this cast the fight of Irish insurgents against British dominion in Ireland. By 1920, military power in the country had devolved onto the feared Auxiliaries recruited largely from dismissed officers of the British Army, and the even more brutal Black-and-Tans. Theses semi-military units fought a largely autonomous guerilla war with the IRA.

O'Casey presents a small segment of this fighting, based on his personal experiences in The Shadow of a Gunman. The attitude to war presented in the play is that war is no longer a simple, romantic setting but a complex site of instability and danger. If O'Casey foregrounds the comedy inherent in the antics of Seumas Shields and Donal Davoren, underlined by the absurdity of another would-be writer, Mr Gallogher, with his letter of complaint to the IRA, the tragic elements in the background force themselves into the central space so that comedy yields to tragedy and bitter ironies are conceived. Just as Maguire, the inoffensive little man leaves a bag of bombs in Shields' room which eventually exposes the cowardice of Shields and Davoren in a comic way and leads to Minnie Powell's heroic if futile act of sacrifice.

The Irish were often hidden by sympathetic citizens, who referred to them as gunmen on the run. Her belief that Davoran is a gunman on the run makes her first approach him, and her admiration for the self-sacrificing patriot, abetted by him, determines the loce-scene of Act 1. Had Davoren confessed himself to be a harmless individual without political involvement, her affection for him world soon have disappeared. However, Davoren is puffed up with 'a gunmen on the run' character and pretending like that.

Davoren, the would-be hero, is presumed as a gunman by others. He is ironically represented throughout. His elitist view of the artist conflicts with the image of gunman imposed on him by the tenement dwellers. His awareness of the deception, accepted through his vanity and opportunism, is at odds with Davoren's ignorance of how hollow his artistic pretensions are. Davoran's words are all rather of escape than of engagement of any kind. In Act two, he says three times that he must go 'on the run' out of the house. His irresponsibility receives severe treatment when his cowardice is finally exposed.

Mr Maguire is an ambiguous figure, for behind the harmless front of the pedlar trading hair-pins who takes a day off to hunt butterflies, hides the determination of an underground fighter convinced of the necessity of his action. In Maguire, However, there is no discrepancy between aims and actions, between pretensions and actual behavior. He is the only one who is ready to take the consequences for his beliefs. The brevity of his appearance is no measure of his importance in the context of the play. Through his behavior, Maguire becomes a standard by which all the other characters can be measured. He is not glorified because he is fighting for the Independence of Ireland.

The waste of Minnie's sacrifice on Davoren, not Maguire, is what makes the play tragic. There is no intention to sacrifice for the true sense of heroic deed. She does not hesitate a moment to take on a task the dangers of which must be clear to her after her previous experiences. Nevertheless, she dies in a tragic error. Davoren is not a hero. He is nothing but a shadow. Eventually, She dies for a shadow. Those things give a sense of emptiness and bitter irony.

O'Casey uses absurdity only to press home the point of the insecurity of civilians in a world where public danger invades private peace. Shields so to speak : 'It's the civilians suffer; when there's an ambush they don't know where to run. Shot in the back to save the British Empire, an' shot in the breast to save the soul of Ireland.' [2] Ironically, this is just how Minnie Powell is killed at the end of the play.

John McGahern has been a major force in Irish literature for the past few decades. It is not a position that McGahern has attained easily. Losing his job as a primary school teacher was the first outcome of the banning. This forced him to go into exile in England for a number of years.

The treatment meted out to him could easily have led to bitterness towards the Catholic Church and towards the repressive attitude that prevailed in Ireland during the 1950s. McGahern is not the type of man who views the past through tinted glasses. He remembers all too well the hardship of growing up in Roscommon, the death of his mother when he was only ten years old, his distant relationship with his father. He is not a writer who engages in either diatribe or didacticism. He writes about the things and the people that he knows best.

James Whyte highlights the polarization of approach among literary critics who tend to regard McGahern's fiction either in the contest of social realism or from an aesthetic perspective. Whyte underlines that neither approach is adequate. Because of the lack of a structured society, a prerequisite for the novel form in the past, McGahern is faced with an amorphousness that causes him to adopt a somewhat different approach: "McGahern is more a romantic idealist than an objective commentator, using his licence as a writer of imaginative fiction to spin history into myth" [4] (Whyte, 2002: 218). Despite the validity of Whyte's doubts with regard to McGahern being a social commentator, he does nevertheless manage to encapsulate many of the changes that took hold of Irish Society in the last fifty years, as Wall maintains in the quote above. Once more he manages to do this by concentration on a single family, living in a detached manner on a farm in the north-west midlands of Ireland. All the elements of change touch the claustrophobic and inward-looking Great Meadow, the name given to the farm inhabited by the Moran family.

Luke is wide of the mark in that assessment of his father. For Moran, the family is sacrosanct. He repeatedly urges his children to always behave in a way that will reflect their uniqueness. It is true that his cult of family also suits his own purposes. This patriarchal domination is one that was condoned and implemented by the Catholic Church and the Irish State in the decades after Independence. It was based in blind allegiance and obedience. Moran is portrayed as being no better or worse than other Irish fathers of the time.

Luke is the thorn in his side, the one who has escaped from his sphere of influence. Each time Maggie and Michael come home from London, Moran eagerly seeks information about Luke. Finally he takes pen to paper in one of the classic moments of the novel and even goes so far as to offer an apology.

On reading the letter, Luke rightly concludes that his father is growing old. He replies saying that there is nothing to forgive and that he does not hold any grudge. At the same time, he does not travel home to visit the dying man. Too much has happened between them for any sort of normal relationship to resume.

Moran is capable of vicious verbal assaults such as the one he launches against Rose who, unaware of the full extent of the rift that exists between her husband and his elder son, describes Luke's telegram saying he will meet Maggie off the train in London. Stung by her reaction, Moran bides his time but eventually gains his revenge by talking: "Did you ever listen carefully to yourself, Rose?...If you listened a bit more carefully to yourself I think you might talk a lot less". [9] Moreover, He talks: "There is no need for you to be turning the whole place upside down. We managed well enough before you ever came round the place". [10] 

On this second occasion, Rose threatens to leave Great Meadow, a threat that frightens Moran because of how he lost his son Luke following an argument and a particularly severe beating he administered to him. He has to apologise to the woman whom he is shocked to discover he knows even less well now than before they were married. He had driven her to the point where she could give up no more ground and lice.

After their first argument, there is a wonderful moment when they make up but do not kiss, although alone. This captures the type of sexual propriety that existed in Ireland a number of decades ago. Sexuality is dealt with in a discreet and circumspect manner in Amongst Women.