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The Impediments of Inheritance: Living with the Legacies of Irish History in John McGahern's Early Novels
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In this thesis I argue that John McGahern’s early novels treat the rampant social despondency of mid-twentieth-century Ireland by revealing its roots in the social and political changes of the early twentieth century. I claim that in The Barracks, McGahern demonstrates the influence of national(ist) history on life in Ireland in the 1950s and early 1960s by examining his characters’ understandings of both Irish emigration and of the Civil War. In my discussion of The Dark, I contend that McGahern criticizes the legacies of Irish independence by comparing the nationalist campaign for independence with his protagonist’s own frustrated desire for autonomy, and also by depicting his character’s difficulty in navigating a social world shaped by the flawed ideology of independence. Ultimately, I argue that the toll the legacies of history take on the lives of McGahern’s characters leads to the bleakness of the novels.