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Writing from the Margins of Europe

The Application of Postcolonial Theories to Selected Works by William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge and James Joyce


Rachael Sumner

The application of postcolonial theories to Irish literature remains a contentious issue. Unlike other colonised nations, Ireland shared a long history of political, economic and artistic ties with its empire-building neighbour, Britain. Yet the Irish response to the project of British imperialism bears comparison with postcolonial models of the relationship between colonisers and the colonised. Writing from the Margins of Europe assesses the potential for postcolonial analysis of works by W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge and James Joyce. In this exploration of postcolonial parallels between these writers, the author focuses on four core issues: historiography, nationalism, language and displacement.
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← 240 | 241 → Conclusions


Current research would indicate that postcolonial readings of Yeats, Synge and Joyce are not only feasible but also desirable in terms of revealing the attitudes of these writers towards Irish politics and cultural practices. Postcolonial interpretations offer an alternative appraisal of their artistic legacy, thus resisting prescriptive forms of analysis aligned with aesthetic or ideological movements such as late Romanticism or Modernism. This is not to suggest that the term postcolonial can serve as a replacement for such labels. As was mentioned in the Introduction and will be reiterated in the Conclusion, the intention of this project was never to prove in some sense that these writers may be categorised as postcolonial. Such an assertion cannot really be made, given the alternative set of cultural and historical determiners which influenced the worldview that emerges during readings of their literature, a factor which will be given further consideration in this final chapter. Writing from the Margins of Europe resists any attempts at labelling the three writers in question. Its contention was and remains quite simple: that the opening up of alternative perspectives or horizons will lead to reinvigorated readings or reassessments of these writers and their texts.

An exclusively aesthetic approach to the texts of Yeats, Synge or Joyce runs the risk of ignoring those politically motivated accents which influence their literature both in terms of form and content. It may not acknowledge the political motivation which lies behind their chosen methods of linguistic and stylistic representation. All three...

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