Migration and Belonging in Irish Literature and Film
Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea and the Travelling Memory of the Great Irish Famine
ABSTRACT This chapter looks at a contemporary Irish author, Joseph O’Connor, and his novelistic treatment of the themes of Irish memory and the Famine. The literary strategy of displacing the mediation of the Famine primarily through an American narrator and other documentary material in a self-reflective style shifts the experience from an account of misery and suffering that might uncritically support a simplistic notion of collective memory and, rather, points to what O’Connor describes as an authentic memory. In this way there is recognition of the mobile nature, or travelling, of the symbolism mobilized in different orientations on the Famine, where the movement and migration of people replicate the movement of the ‘real’ meaning in literary and political discourse.
At the heart of Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002), a novel which addresses the Great Irish Famine of 1845–8, is the question of how to represent an emotionally and politically fraught memory of the past in novel form. O’Connor’s treatment of what has been called a ‘critical moment’ of Irish history for its formative role in defining Ireland’s sense of identity,1 as well as the thematization of the difficulties involved in novelistically rendering that moment, makes the novel particularly interesting to consider. Against ← 27 | 28 → the backdrop of recent debates in Ireland over the depiction of Irish cultural memory, in which the Irish are seen, on the one hand, as seeking to dissociate themselves from a traumatic past and, on the other, as...
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