Show how the Writer deals with the social consequences of emigration on the live of the characters portrayed in the Irish short stories studied in class.
In the mid nineteenth century in Ireland a disease spread among the potato crop, which was the staple diet for thousands. The potato blight destroyed most of the potato crop and this cause many deaths through starvation and malnutrition. Hundreds of thousands of people left Ireland in seek of a better life. Many went to England and some to Australia but most went to America. When they reached their destinations they were often disappointed by the harsh reality that met them. Some were successful and became wealthy but most lived impoverished hard lives in American cities where conditions were almost as bad as in Ireland.
Many young people moved away from rural villages and towns to go to America in search of good fortune. The first story “Going Into Exile,” Is a story of a young brother and sister from a small Island off the west coast of Ireland. It is a small Island with a closely-knit community.
At the beginning of the story the whole community gather in the Feeny household for a leaving party to celebrate the impending emigration of Michael and Mary. The party has been paid for by an uncle, this and the fact that the money for the travelling has been sent by an aunt emphasises on the interdependence of families in rural Ireland at that time.
Despite the singing and dancing the atmosphere in the house is melancholy. The gaiety of the celebration is tinged with sadness.
“Forced boisterous gaiety failed to hide to the their real purpose of being there.”
The father regularly leaves the house and tells others it is to check on a pig but really there is no pig to check. He cannot bear to stay in the house surrounded by dancing and singing while his heart is breaking.
“He could make nothing at all of his thoughts, but a lump always came up his throat, and he shivered although the night was warm.”
Both Mary and Michael contemplate their new life in America and also what effect their leaving will have on the family. Michael is excited about moving to America; he is looking forward to the prospect of getting a job and having the sense of responsibility of being able to send money home to support his family. However he also has sad thoughts about leaving his family,
“Conscious of his youth and his lusting for adventurous life, for a moment he forgot the ache in his heart that the thought of leaving his father inspired in him.”
Mary is also excited about going to America, she is looking forward to getting married and getting her own house and clothes. But when Mary looks at her mother’s sadness and how tired and old she looks, Mary is anxious about not seeing her mother grow old and not being by her side as she dies. It is unlikely that Mary will have enough money to return only possibly for the death of her mother or father, she feels guilty about this,
“She kept thinking feverishly of the United States at one moment with fear and loathing and the next with desire and longing.”
The mother is particularly depressed by the thought of her children leaving her she feels a physical pain.
“It seemed like a thin bar of some metal thrust itself forward from her brain and rested behind the wall of her forehead.”
We hear a mention of a distressing image of the youngest child with the bad chest. He is hugging the dog and is crying because he senses the tremendous sense of sorrow. His brother and sister will be leaving soon but he will not be able to go with them to the port. We can already see the negative consequence this separation is having on the family.
The Feeny family have stayed up through the night and after the guests have left they sit down to their last breakfast together the mother wants her children around her for the last time. The father tries make the day seem as normal as possible by sending his children out to do the normal chores. This seems to be his way of dealing with the tragedy of his two oldest children leaving. He does not tell Mary and Michael to do their normal tasks; this causes them to feel distance from their family already they feel like “homeless wanderers,”
This story would have been common in many parts of rural Ireland particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century as children were leaving their homeland in search of a better life across the ocean. Sometimes they were ended up with a poor quality of life but for others the American dream was realised. Who knows what fate lies before Mary and Michael Feeney?
In the second story “Home Sickness” by George Moore is about a man called Bryden who went to America as a young man and has done well for himself there but has become ill and his doctor has recommended that he goes on a trip to his homeland to try and improve his health. He takes his advice and takes what he plans to be a short trip to his home village Duncannon in County Cork.
When Bryden arrives in the small village he and his American experiences fascinate the local people. However he soon becomes gloomy and despondent because of the drab lifestyles of the un-happy people living in Duncannon.
“Bryden began to wish himself back in the slums……… He wondered if every evening would be like the present one.”
But over time he begins to fully take on the easygoing pace of life and the beautiful surroundings and his health begins to improve, he questions whether or not he should go back to America.
“The days dreamed themselves away, ……. Signs of ancient Ireland were pleasing to Bryden in his present mood.”
Bryden meets a local girl called Margaret Dirken and spends a lot of time with her and before he has time to think about it the whole town expected them to settle down together. He is happy with this and decides to settle back into the homely village of Duncannon. The whole community is talking about their marriage because with Bryden’s money from America and a small inheritance, which Margaret has, will mean that they will be relatively wealthy for that part of Ireland.
The community celebrate the engagement with a small party but during the celebrations the local parish priest calls to the house and tells them to stop their drinking and dancing and the locals submissively abide with his religious authority. Bryden is worried about the compliance of the local people to the priest’s strict rules. This incident and a letter from a friend in America makes him strongly doubt his decision to stay and settle in Duncannon. He has to reconsider, he will choose between the drab countryside and primitive people of Ireland or the free energetic pace of America. He decides not to stay and quickly returns to America, which obviously hurts Margaret and will bring her shame and notoriety in the village.
In later years America Brings prosperity for Bryden and he gets married to another woman and has children. He appears to be happy with is life in America but in his old age he remembers longingly the homeland. Is this just the wistful thinking of a man in his old age or is Bryden’s heart still in Ireland? We see the significance of the story’s title and understand that the writer is exploring the nature of “home.” Is it a place or a state of mind? Emigration has brought personal anguish to the characters in both stories but it has also brought hopes and dreams that were not satisfied in their insular close-knit communities of rural Ireland.