Family and Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Narrative and Film

by Marisol Morales-Ladrón (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs VI, 352 Pages


Institutionalized through religious, moral and political discourses, the family has become an icon of Irish culture. Historically, the influence of the Church and the State fostered the ideal of a nuclear family based on principles of Catholic morality, patriarchal authority, heterosexuality and hierarchy, which acted as the cornerstone of Irish society. However, in recent decades the introduction of liberal policies, the progressive recognition of women’s rights, the secularization of society and the effects of immigration and globalization have all contributed to challenging the validity of this ideal, revealing the dysfunction that may lie at the heart of the rigidly constructed family cell. This volume surveys the representation of the concepts of home and family in contemporary Irish narrative and film, approaching the issue from a broad range of perspectives. The earlier chapters look at specific aspects of familial dysfunction, while the final section includes interviews with the writer Emer Martin and filmmakers Jim Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Marisol Morales-Ladrón, Inés Praga, Asier Altuna-García De Salazar, Juan F. Elices And Rosa González-Casademont – Introduction: Home, Family and Dysfunction in the Narrative and Filmic Discourses of Ireland
  • Irish Narrative and Filmic Discourses of Dysfunction
  • Marisol Morales-Ladrón – Portraits of Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Women’s Narratives: Confined to the Cell, Lost to Memory
  • Inés Praga – Home Revisited: Family (Re)Constructions in Contemporary Irish Autobiographical Writing
  • Asier Altuna-García De Salazar – Family and Dysfunction in Ireland Represented in Fiction Through the Multicultural and Intercultural Prisms
  • Juan F. Elices – Familiar Dysfunctionalities in Contemporary Irish Satirical Literature
  • Rosa González-Casademont – Representation of Family Tropes and Discourses in Contemporary Irish-Themed Cinema
  • Interviewing a Writer and Two Film Directors
  • Asier Altuna-García De Salazar – From Escaping to Facing Dysfunction: An Interview with Emer Martin
  • Rosa González-Casademont – ‘There is no point in making local stories that are not universally true’: An Interview with Jim Sheridan
  • Rosa González-Casademont – ‘Ireland is a tough one when it comes to filming’: An Interview with Kirsten Sheridan
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


Introduction: Home, Family and Dysfunction in the Narrative and Filmic Discourses of Ireland

The family in its wider significance means an assemblage of individuals, dwelling in the same house under a common superior or head, and united by ties founded on the natural law. In this sense, the family is a composite society, which may be composed, at least potentially, in all or any of three ways – the union, namely, of husband and wife, of parents and children and of master and servants.


Institutionalized through nationalist, religious, moral and political discourses, the family has functioned as an icon of Irish culture. The engagement of Church and State to foster an idea(l) of the nuclear family, based on principles of Catholic morality, partriarchal authority, heterosexuality and hierarchy has historically contritbuted to construct an image of the Catholic family that would officially become a cornerstone of the Irish society and a metaphor of national, political and religious unity.2 With the legal support of the Irish Constitution of 1937, women’s roles within the household were reduced to the fulfillment of domestic standards of motherhood and subservience. It was not until the last quarter of the ← 1 | 2 →twentieth century, with the introduction of liberal policies, the advance in the recognition of women’s rights, the secularization of society, and the effects of immigration, transnational forces and globalization, when such an understanding of the family cell3 – as it has often been referred to – and, with it, of Irish identity, commenced to be challenged. However, in his essay, ‘The Irish Family’, Fintan O’Toole argues that the nuclear Catholic Irish family was a mere ideological construction that did not exist outside the rhetoric of the nation (1994: 170). In fact, a comprehensive overview of the literature produced in Ireland throughout the twentieth century reveals that such a phenomenon was more the exception than the norm. While a compromised notion of the concept of family does not exist, considering that the complexity of its meaning and implications are fluid and wide-ranging, the representation of such fabrication in the literary, artistic and filmic discourses has traditionally oscillated between idealization and denouncement, making the portrayal of the (nuclear) Irish family – mostly dysfunctional – often a commonplace. This book emerges out of the need to survey the representation of the concepts of home and family in four decades of Irish writing and film. With the intention of revisiting and exploring the articulation of such discourses, the contributors to this volume will approach the family issue from a range of perspectives that attempt to represent the multifarious faces of contemporary Ireland.

No doubt, the meaning of the term ‘family’ is elusive, being as plural and wide in scope as people and cultures that refer to it. For sociologist Carlfred B. Broderick, the family is ‘an open, ongoing, goal-seeking, self-regulating, social system’, which ‘is shaped by its own particular structural features (size, complexity, composition, life stage), the psychobiological characteristics of its individual members (age, gender, fertility, health, temperament, and so on), and it’s sociocultural and historic position in its larger environment’ (1993: 37). In this regard, though the expansion in the significance of such an ideologically loaded concept could at first be ← 2 | 3 →connected with the modernization of societies, the shifts in gender roles or the liberalization of marriage legislation, abortion and sexuality, the truth is that a variety of different family arrangements have always existed, even if some were not socially acceptable. Finola Kennedy has explained that in the case of Ireland the evolution of family life has gone ‘from a broad notion of a household under a common head, to that of a nuclear family based on lifelong marriage, to a wide diversity of family forms, including solo parent families, and families that have been reconstituted following the breakdown of an earlier family’ (2001: 7). A proof that the family, as a socio-political institution, has grown in importance and concern in Irish history and culture can be seen in the fact that in the year 2003 ‘The Family Support Agency’ – dependant on the Ministry of Social Welfare and family – was founded and was later included within the ‘Child and Family Agency’.4 Apart from the coverage of supportive and welfare services, another relevant aim of this organization has been to stimulate research on the family from an interdisciplinary perspective. The report Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland 1986–2006, issued in 2010, and edited by Pete Lunn, Tony Fahey and Carmel Hannan, precisely abounded on the range of family configurations that covers the Irish reality.5 Moreover, recognizing that the Irish Constitution reduces the family to a unit based on marriage, the Agency has amended its meaning to incorporate what the term family means de facto, which is hereby defined as

the set of close personal relationships which link people together – sometimes in the same household […]. These relationships are created socially and biologically, and may or may not have a formal legal status. De facto families therefore are characterised by the range of relationships between couples (including life partners/cohabitees), between parents/guardians and their children, between siblings, between ← 3 | 4 →grandparents and their grandchildren, and between extended family members.6 (2013: 8)

In the last few years, critics have scrutinized from an array of different viewpoints the rapid socio-economic changes brought about by globalization and the adoption of a post-industrial economy. Agreement has been reached on the fact that the family has undergone a significant transformation (Fogarty 2000: 63; O’Keeffe and Reese 2013: 1; Connolly 2015: 5). However, there is no consensus on whether to consider such modernizing processes responsible for the changes in the configuration of the societal structure and of the family at large. On the one hand, modernization, globalization and the implementation of more liberal laws have undoubtedly contributed to challenging the traditional power structure that seemed to sustain an out-dated patriarchal system. In this regard, Jennifer Jeffers argues that ‘the social and political context of the 90s contrasts with the stereotype of Ireland. Economics, politics, sexual preference, and lifestyle choices in Ireland in the 1990s are a reflection of a greater European and global awareness. In the Republic of Ireland signs of self-satisfaction were beginning to emerge in the 1990s (2002: 178).7 At the same time, Finola Kennedy, in her study Cottage to Crèche: Family Change in Ireland (2001), resorts to data and statistics to argue that family patterns in Ireland during the twentieth century differed from those of other European countries, with variations amounting to late age of marriage, high rates of spinsterhood and bachelorhood and low levels of birth rates outside the marriage unit and high within it, since birth control was not a practice and women did not work. However, she contends that from the last quarter of the twentieth century there has been a significant transformation in the structure of the ← 4 | 5 →Irish family, sharing more patterns with Europe, which originate in the utilization of a developed economy, the implementation of governmental policies and the change of values and religious beliefs. She further argues that:

To understand family change, it is necessary to understand the change in roles and behaviour of individuals – men, women and children – within the family. How was their behaviour shaped and reshaped by economic forces, policies and by values in such a way that the collective unit, ‘the family’, was transformed? […]. The economic, the policy and the values are three arches on which the family edifice is based. (2001: 5)

On the other hand, in 1999, the Irish Journal of Feminist Studies devoted a special issue to ‘Families in Ireland’ with a view, as editors Myrtle Hill and Moya Lloyd explained, to reassess the function of the traditional family unit from a feminist perspective. Within this issue, Mary Daly’s article on the historical evolution of the Irish family since famine times came to challenge and question received assumptions on the role that modernization and capitalization has exerted on Irish culture, as far as the change of the family structure was concerned. In her view, for instance, the fall in fertility was not a consequence of urbanization and modernization, since Ireland had higher rates than other Catholic countries that underwent similar circumstances during the same decades (1999: 3). By the same token, Tony Fahey summarizes the drawbacks that conservatives have seen in the demographic changes taking place in Ireland in the last decades, which basically go down to the loss of traditional values and the crisis of the family, understood as an ordered system that existed in the past. Adding to this, he alludes to conservative reactions against the more liberal agenda in social policy developed in the late 1990s, which have actually placed Ireland in the European map, with rates of marriage, fertility, divorce and unmarried parenthood converging towards the European norm (1998: 64 and 51).8 More recently, Linda Connolly has edited the volume The ‘Irish’ Family (2015), which comprehensively covers variations and fluctuations ← 5 | 6 →that have affected family patterns throughout the twentieth century from a sociological perspective.

A diachronic dig into the past reveals that the phenomenon of ‘the happy families of de Valera’, as Maura Richards has contended, did not exist beyond the passing of the 1937 Irish Constitution (1998: 54). Patrick Hanafin has preferred to call this the ‘familiar fallacy’, which would be based on the principles of the nuclear family and would exclude what did not fit within such restrained concept (2000: 156).9 Adding to this, O’Toole has explained that the notion of the family that was defined by the Constitution would in fact be very difficult to identify, as society was structured around ‘very late marriage, massive rates of non-marriage, an understanding of children as economic investments and a whole range of kinships allegiances typical of a rural society’ (1994: 170). Likewise, Anne Fogarty has referred to changes occurring in Ireland in the early twenty-first century in terms of an ‘increasingly secularized morality’, arguing that the nuclear family was not a typical phenomenon, since the existence of a low marriage rate with a high proportion of fertility within it distinguished the Irish case from other European countries (2000: 62–3). Interestingly, such officially constructed image of the country, erected upon the unity that would provide the non-existent nuclear family, triggered the writing of what Heather Ingman has called the ‘counter narrative[s]’ that tended to narrate ‘unhappy family lives’, such as those emerging in Edna O’Brien’s novels (2002: 255–6).

In a country in which regulation – under the Marriage Bar – forced women to quit their jobs once they married, so that they could serve their husbands and bring up their children, where contraception, divorce, abortion and economic independence were outside the law, the heterosexual ← 6 | 7 →and patriarchal caged family was bound to become dysfunctional, as the literature produced in Ireland throughout the twentieth century attests to. In fact, instances of writers who unearthed issues connected to the ‘unhealthy’ normative ideology of the State and its defence of the all-too-functional nuclear family abound. Hence, names such as Kate O’Brien, Maria Edgeworth or James Joyce would be followed in later decades by Jennifer Johnston, Roddy Doyle, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan and Emer Martin, among a long list that keeps growing. The works of most of these authors manifest how the dysfunctional family was not a singularity of modern times but rather a feature in Irish society, no matter how concealed it was from public discourse. What has changed as a result of modern times is the type of dysfunction that literature has showcased, which from the 1980s has engaged in the tackling of issues long considered taboo, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, incest, the excesses of alcohol, child molestation, the social consequences of immigration, unemployment and even mental disorders or maladapted behaviours.

In spite of the considerable amount of critical studies that have analysed the socio-economic changes that have affected Irish fiction brought by Celtic Tiger times, few have focused specifically on the study of the thematization of the Irish family in the contemporary fictional discourse, with the exception of the monograph edited by Yvonne O’Keeffe and Claudia Reese, Voices, Inherited Lines: Literary and Cultural Representations of the Irish Family (2013). This study focuses on an array of authors and subjects, mainly from previous epochs, that stem from the Irish famine, migration and the New Woman to those representing bicultural families and hybridity.10 Partially following on a similar interest in the representation of the family in Irish literature, although amplifying the analysis of such complex issue, the present study will survey the representation of the dysfunctional family in the literature and cinema produced throughout ← 7 | 8 →the last four decades in Ireland. To that end, authors will argue that the pre-eminence of this institution, as a construct of national, religious and political unity has altered its configuration, in some cases due to the effects of immigration, transnational forces and globalization, in others as a result of the advance of women’s rights, the adoption of liberal attitudes and the inevitable modernization of the country, not only at an economic and social level but also in the artistic and aesthetic spheres of knowledge. The psychosocial changes that have shaped Ireland as the result of the unprecedented economic expansion, the growth of multiculturalism as a result of immigration and the establishment of new values in accord with a global society have all contributed to question the weight of the hegemonic perception of the Irish Catholic nuclear family, which for centuries has been an icon of this culture and a symbol of its identity. Thus, the notion of the dysfunctional family emerges, not as an inevitable reaction to the renewed identity of a country that has experienced a rapid process of modernization, but rather as a symptom of the gap that existed between the rhetoric of the nation and its social reality. This collected volume, in sum, stems from the need to historize the place and evolution of the Irish family as it has been represented in the literary and filmic discourses produced in Ireland in the last decades. With this purpose in mind, the present book is structured around chapters that will cover a variety of approaches from which to undertake the analysis of this matter. These include women’s writing, autobiography and memoir, multicultural and transculturalism, satire, and representations of the family on the screen. The sections will be further complemented by three interviews with a writer and two film directors, who have tackled the subjects of home, family and dysfunction in their respective literary and cinematic productions.

Thus, the first chapter, entitled ‘Portraits of Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Women’s Narratives: Confined to the Cell, Lost to Memory’, written by Marisol Morales-Ladrón, looks at how dysfunction has been represented in the literature produced by Irish women since the 1980s. When the term family is examined from feminist postulates, its meaning acquires broader connotations as it ceases to be considered a natural entity to be treated as a social one that demands the necessary space for gender negotiation. From a gendered perspective, the meaning of such ← 8 | 9 →slippery concept requires to be amply articulated. Arguing that a family goes from an individual to a group, feminism as a political position has centred on the need to transform family relationships, since the family has been identified ‘as the major site of women’s oppression’ (Humm 1989: 68). This has obviously been the case in patriarchal societies in which Ireland figures pre-eminently. In this regard, as the sustaining pillar of society, the family unit has the capacity of serving both as its mirror or turning into a bearer of its symptoms. For that reason, literary and cultural discourses have historically functioned as vehicles through which family dysfunction has been denounced.

In order to provide an in-depth survey of the narratives produced during the period under investigation, eight women writers and their works have been selected. In most of the novels that will be discussed, the definition of dysfunction is associated with the disclosure of a traumatic event that originated in the past and requires a retrospective unearthing of the harmfully blocked memories of the characters. Morales-Ladrón thus resorts to a psychological approach from which the family domain – as the first stage in the socializing process of the individual – is seen as a site for personal growth and social and emotional development. Psychosocial growth, however, can either be triggered or halted within the family realm, which in turn might be one of the most damaging sources of distress for a human being. Considering that conflict solving is part of the daily routine of any family, in which strong disagreements or troubles should be understood as opportunities for change and the improvement of well-being, the term dysfunction would then refer throughout this chapter to the incapacity of families to interact without conflict. The family becomes dysfunctional when it fails to fulfil the role society has assigned to it, turning into a repository of trauma, emotional deficits and distress affecting any of its members.

Considering these circumstances, the initial chapter of this monograph will mainly focus on how women writers have constructed different notions of the dysfunctional family, with a view to proposing that their role challenging traditional views of motherhood, unearthing taboo subjects and denouncing abuses within the (patriarchal) order has been as outstanding as underestimated. From this perspective, it is the intention of the author to contribute, if only at a small scale, to compensating for the gender imbalance ← 9 | 10 →that emerges in so many anthologies, monographs and general literary readings, which tend to showcase the male perspective as the norm. If, according to Maggie Humm, ‘[t]hrough representations we shape our identities and our worlds’, we need female representations of the world because they constitute more than half of it. Contending that the gender approach is not just an additional framework but a form to ‘centralize women’s experiences of sexuality, work and the family’, Humm defends such ideological position as an unquestioned model from which the interpretation of reality will inevitably be challenged (2004: 46). Accordingly, paying attention to how women writers have articulated their own pictures of dysfunctional patterns occurring within the domestic sphere will help historicize changes that have shaped Irish society and the family unit at large.

For mere matters of chronology and of limits of space, the eight authors and novels that have been selected for this discussion aim at illustrating instances of each of the four decades that will feature in this chapter. Starting with the 1980s, the chosen narratives, Julia O’Faolain’s No Country for Young Men (1980) and Deirdre Madden’s The Birds of the Innocent Wood (1988), have served to demonstrate that intergenerational (dysfunctional) family patterns, such as violence, emotional deficits or the burden of secrets and lies, which have been interiorized as a result of faulty upbringings, are doomed to be repeated throughout history. In the following decade, Lia Mills’ Another Alice (1996) and Mary O’Donnell’s The Elysium Testament (1999) will showcase how the effects of abject motherhood, including incest and deep emotional pain, could trigger the search for psychological recovery through various therapeutic mechanisms. As doorways to the new millennium, Anne Enright’s The Gathering (2007) and Jennifer Johnston’s Foolish Mortals (2007) aim at rendering how the term dysfunction has been used too loosely. While Enright’s novel delves into the dramatic consequences of child molestation, a taboo subject that had scandalized Irish society and was usually kept secret within the family domain, Johnston’s novel was reviewed as an instance of an Irish dysfunctional household, merely because it proposed alternative family configurations that included homosexuality and cross-dressing. Finally, as samples of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the author has picked two short novels – or rather, novellas – which look at family life from the perspective of childhood. ← 10 | 11 →Thus, two children protagonists render their own experiences in Claire Keegan’s Foster (2010) and Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s You (2010). In both cases, unconventional family arrangements are presented as the solution to other ineffective forms of nurture in which youngsters are sometimes used as commodities, easily exchanged or managed by adults. At the same time, they succeed in challenging received expectations of motherhood, offering models that refuse to domesticate female figures and even question the existence of a natural maternal instinct. Overall, in the novels discussed here, child abuse, domestic violence, incest, neglect, unorthodox motherhood, distressful orphanage and, in general, the wrongs of familiar upbringing figure prominently. Furthermore, they direct severe critiques at the values commonly alleged to pertain to the nuclear family and engage into the denouncement of out-dated patriarchal tenets whose impositions on society have precisely derived into the surfacing of a wide variety of family dysfunctions.

In the second chapter, entitled ‘Home Revisited: Family (Re)Con­structions in Contemporary Irish Autobiographical Writing’, Inés Praga discusses how Irish life writing has been recently marked by a ­proliferation of works that reconstruct the family experiences of their authors in the middle decades of the last century, the austere de Valera years in post-independence Ireland. It is generally agreed that one of the most powerful partners of memory is nostalgia, the deep and painful desire to restore the sense of belonging and to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life. On other occasions, life writing represents a desire to relate previously unspoken stories and to exorcise their respective secrets. And last, but not least, there is the profoundly nostalgic conviction that the past has explanatory or redemptive powers to stop time or to understand, recover or re-create it.

A wide range of patterns is covered under the generic term of life writing. Here, the author refers to the autobiographical novel, a genre that, along with the memoir, forms the basis of this chapter, even though there are obvious differences between the two. In the memoir, the authors have made a pact with the reader to tell the truth about themselves whereas the autobiographical novel – although based on some aspects of the author’s life – maintains and reveals its fictional aspect with the addition ← 11 | 12 →of imaginary elements. Hence, doubt persists in many readers’ minds as regards to how much of the story is truth and how much it is fiction, and this ambiguity often serves as an incentive for the reader to become immersed in the work.

We can register the following common features in the works selected: all of them recall the experience of growing up in mid-century Ireland and evoke the memories of a Catholic childhood and of home, hence the great importance of the family. The first group is made up by four semi-autobiographical novels though they are very different from one another in the merging of reality and imagination: Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy (1992); Hugo Hamilton’s The Speckled People (2004); and two novels by John Banville, The Sea (2005) and Ancient Light (2013), also autobiographical in their inspiration but in a much more partial and indirect way. All of them examine the evolution and learning of the protagonist who is to face serious difficulties to integrate into the community and society. In all of them the family nucleus is fragile and unstable and the central character is exposed from an early age to different forms of violence. In all cases an inevitable conflict arises between the children and, at least, one of his/her parents, in such a way that they all end up wanting to escape the personal and social model that the parents represent. The paternal figure is almost always weak or absent and this character is usually marked by alcohol abuse and/or the propensity for violence or cruelty. In addition to the above-mentioned circumstances, there is usually a close – and complex – mother-son relationship and sometimes a family secret that interferes with fluid communication and shakes the foundations of family when revealed. Finally, the main character, at some point in the story, will undertake to fly the nest: in a journey with or without return, in search of a better setting in which to develop his or her own individuality.

Memoirs are represented here by John McGahern’s Memoir (2005), Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl (2012), and Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody? The Life and Times of Nuala O’Faolain (1996) and Almost There (2003). Finally, the author will deal with Hugo Hamilton’s Every Single Minute (2014), an example of autofiction that continues and merges the memories of the writer with those of Nuala O’Faolain. All the authors mentioned here have written and rewritten their home memories in previous ← 12 | 13 →fictional and non-fictional works through an almost obsessive process of (re)negotiating family memories. There is no doubt that when early family life constitutes the remembered period, the reliability of memory is more seriously questioned because remembering involves reconstructing past events using presently existing schemas. But when analysing a memoir, accuracy is far less important than the fact that the autobiographer exhibits either a sense of continuity from past to present, thus enabling the adult narrator to explain a present self in terms of childhood experience, or a sense of discontinuity, creating a strong feeling of distance and alienation. Moreover, the inclusion of male and female authors may provide, from a gender perspective, some remarkable differences between the way men and women remember and establish emotional/traumatic family links. In Ireland, life writing has been predominantly male – both fiction and nonfiction – and some critics hold that there are remarkable differences concerning memory and gender. The Irish boyhood is a well-established and canonized literary genre of its own, whereas far fewer works can be named as examples of the Irish literary girlhood.

Traditionally the construction of home as a woman’s place has reinforced the view of it as a source of stability, reliability and authenticity. Home is where the heart is and where the woman remains, a view often constructed around the mother. But it is obvious that the mother is frequently an absence rather than a presence and this is what motivates the writer to reconstruct both an imaginary home and family, either by idealization of the hearth or by transgression of its boundaries. This idea of transgression, of overstepping forbidden boundaries, is present in all the works analysed here, where the inner world of the family is symbolized by the hearth, the feminine space that constitutes the heart of the dwelling. On the other hand, commercial success has exploited the potential of childhood deprivation, and the authors who use their own childhood as the subject of literature frequently come from a family in which there is a strong emotional imbalance. Consequently, issues such as disenchantment with Irish fathers or other tortuous accounts of family life are central in all the works analysed here. However, in the opinion of the author, the figure of the mother has been somewhat neglected or at least not sufficiently and properly defined and so the family pattern proposed for this analysis would be ‘absent fathers’ ← 13 | 14 →and ‘absent and unhappy mothers’, emotionally and sexually frustrated women who must be reinvented and above all redeemed, in many cases revealing silenced facts, distorted stories or hidden secrets. Home revisiting is the strategy that all the authors share (re)building time and again the family ghosts, that intimate world that only memory can access to restore the sense of belonging. But in this selection, the memories of home have nothing to do with the ideals of family that were praised by de Valera and that constituted the ideological pillars of the nation. Quite the contrary, they represent the darker side of mid-century Catholic Ireland. The hidden Ireland of domestic violence, insanity, alcoholism or repression populates the pages of these works and subverts the Arcadia that never managed to exist and the family model that never dominated Irish culture.

The third chapter, entitled ‘Family and Dysfunction in Ireland Represented in Fiction through the Multicultural and Intercultural Prisms’, authored by Asier Altuna-García de Salazar, looks at the phenomenon of the dysfunctional family in intercultural and multicultural novels. From his perspective, when family dysfunction in Irish fiction is approached during the period between 1980 and 2010 the multicultural and transcultural prisms offer new insights into those factors that have traditionally informed dysfunction in the family cell in Ireland. This chapter abounds in tenets that have featured highly within the idea of dysfunction in the Irish discourse, such as poverty, emigration, drinking problems, domestic violence, rejection, diaspora, displacement and sexual abuse, to name but a few. However, all these will be seen encapsulated in other ‘new’ discourses that have recently appeared within the Irish context: net immigration, ethnic diversity, religious and linguistic diversity and identity transformation. As a result of all these variants, Irish society and her institutions would undergo substantial changes at all levels, which are still ongoing, and which would emerge in Irish fiction at large. The family in Ireland will be one of those key institutions that would be deeply affected by all these new social, economic and identitarian discourses that have appeared over the last decades. The literary representation of family dysfunction seen through the multicultural and transcultural prisms would address these ‘new’ transformations. This depiction will be part and parcel of any approach to the effects of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland since the 1990s. Indeed, ← 14 | 15 →the rise of new multicultural and transcultural realities in Ireland and how these affect the configuration of the nuclear family cell, which even point to its dysfunction is a necessary follow-up of the previous chapters in this volume. Migration to the Republic of Ireland, the overall ‘commodification’ of Irish culture and society, the advent of a globalized Ireland in terms of economy and social change and the redress of a new identity and a new nation in Ireland have helped in the idea of a transformed concept of family in Ireland at large.

However, whereas the societal and literary approaches to family dysfunction may have been advanced before and in depth in previous chapters in this volume, the study of family dysfunction seen through the multicultural and transcultural prisms in Ireland has often been neglected. Many times, this was due to the idea that both multiculturalism and transculturalism were very recent phenomena that needed a bigger lapse of time to be studied. Although the fictional examples offered in this chapter will share many of the forms and characteristics of family dysfunction dealt with previously, many other significant and exclusive issues will feature highly. The issues this chapter will deal with encompass, among many others, those of race, colour, ethnicity, stereotyping, mixed-race marriages and children, asylum seekers and their family relatives, migrant and diasporic families to Ireland, second and third generation Irish people with different cultural backgrounds, multi-ethnic couples, access to family reunification, various denominational families, citizenship issues with regard to infants born in Ireland of migrant couples and lone parents. However, far from the traumatic and dysfunctional characteristics that have traditionally attended the latter issues, this chapter will also approach how fiction depicts Irish society between 1980 and 2010. This period will be seen as a new and wider site for inter-change and inter-action from which a new notion of family will arise.


VI, 352
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
home contemporary Irish narrative and film women writers memoir autobiography The dysfunctional family globalization
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. VI, 352 pp.

Biographical notes

Marisol Morales-Ladrón (Volume editor)

Marisol Morales-Ladrón is Senior Lecturer at the University of Alcalá, where she teaches Irish and English literature. She is the author of Breve introducción a la literatura comparada (1999) and Las poéticas de James Joyce y Luis Martín-Santos (2005). She also edited Postcolonial and Gender Perspectives in Irish Studies (2007) and coedited Global Ireland: Current Perspectives on Literature and the Visual Arts (2011). She has served as Chair of the Spanish Association for Irish Studies (AEDEI) and as a board member of AEDEI and the Spanish Society for Comparative and General Literature (SELGyC).


Title: Family and Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Narrative and Film
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