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Family and Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Narrative and Film

Edited By Marisol Morales-Ladrón

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.
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Marisol Morales-Ladrón – Portraits of Dysfunction in Contemporary Irish Women’s Narratives: Confined to the Cell, Lost to Memory

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← 28 | 29 →MARISOL MORALES-LADRÓN

‘Wherever there is Ireland there is the Family;and it counts for a great deal’

–G. K. CHESTERTON

ABSTRACT: The present chapter looks at how dysfunction has been represented in the literature produced by Irish women writers since the 1980s. In the novels under discussion, dysfunction is defined in terms of the disclosure of a traumatic event that originated in the past but requires a retrospective unearthing of the harmfully blocked memories of the characters in the present. In order to illustrate instances of family dysfunction throughout the four decades that feature in this study, eight novels have been selected: Julia O’Faolain’s No Country for Young Men (1980), Deirdre Madden’s The Birds of the Innocent Wood (1988), Lia Mills’ Another Alice (1996), Mary O’Donnell’s The Elysium Testament (1999) Anne Enright’s The Gathering (2007), Jennifer Johnston’s Foolish Mortals (2007), Claire Keegan’s Foster (2010) and Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s You (2010). In these narratives, child abuse, domestic violence, incest, neglect, unorthodox motherhood, distressful orphanage and, in general, the wrongdoings of familiar upbringing figure prominently. Furthermore, they expose severe critiques at the values commonly alleged to pertain to the nuclear family and engage into the denouncement of outdated patriarchal tenets whose impositions on society have precisely derived into the surfacing of a wide variety of family dysfunctions.

That the family has commonly stood as a symbol of unity in most cultures of the Eastern and Western sides of the globe...

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