Irish 280 -- Paper 1

Due Friday, February 21, 1997

Length: Approximately 5 pages

This typed or computer-printed essay should either explore a historical or cultural element related to the literature we are reading or focus on your own interpretation of a critical problem, a crucial passage, or a comparison of various readings. If you choose the first option, select an aspect of Irish history or culture (e.g., ancient myth, nationalist politics) that you can link with at least one or two literary works.

The word "analysis" comes from a Latin word that means "loosening" or "untying." When you explicate a novel, poem, or play, you "untie" its meaning in an essay by interpreting or analyzing a portion of it. You can analyze a character, a single incident, symbols, point of view, structure, and so on. No short analysis can take into account everything that goes on in a novel or a poem--the paper would be longer than the work you are analyzing--so your paper should focus on one or two elements that you think contribute to the overall meaning or purpose of the novel or group of poems. A good analysis concentrates on details: you should quote from the work to show how the text supports your thesis.

You should avoid simply summarizing the work you decide to write about. While your essay may begin with a short summary in order to set context, you should be certain to analyze rather than to summarize. One way to avoid summary is crafting an argumentative thesis that takes an arguable point of view on the novel, a point of view that will require support from the text itself. For example, a paper that begins, "J. M. Synge's Riders to the Sea is about the Aran Islands," does not promise to develop into an argument about the meaning of the play, while the sentence, "While Synge's Riders to the Sea struck W. B. Yeats as 'Greek' in its simplicity and tragedy, a closer look reveals significant differences between Synge's play and Greek tragedy," suggests that the writer will focus her attention on analyzing the text, explaining how the way in which it is written differs from what we expect of Greek tragedy.


Suggested topics:

Consider the political position and function of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." You can analyze its use of irony and speculate on the ways it produces a shocking effect on its readers. Or, you can look into Swift's own life and political positions a bit further in order to speculate on exactly what he hoped to accomplish with this political essay.

Examine one or two plays and poems written by Synge and Yeats that deal with an ancient Irish myth (e.g., Deirdre of the Sorrows, "Who Goes With Fergus," "Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea," etc.) and/or some of Lady Gregory's versions of these myths. Why do you think the modern writers chose these myth as the bases for their work? What varying tones do the modern works adopt toward the ancient stories? What is the relationship between ancient myth and modern adaptation? Can you see a political function in these modern retellings of old myths? What differences do you see in these writers in terms of how they handle these myths?

Contrast the two plays we've read by Lady Gregory with Synge's "peasant plays." How does each author represent the Catholic Irish peasantry and middle class? How might this representation function in the complex political arena of early 20th century Ireland?

Discuss Synge's view of the position and importance of women in Irish society, as it is reflected in Riders to the Sea and/or The Playboy of the Western World.

Explore the nature and place of religion in Synge's plays. Given the fact that Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country and that religion and the clergy have generally played a prominent role in Irish life, how would you characterize Synge's handling of this important force in his plays?

Examine the ways in which politics and art interact in some of the earlier poetry and/or popular songs we have examined. Do you note any persistent trends in terms of imagery or tone? Discuss the political "coding" of these poems and identify symbolic patterns in them that embody nationalist myths and preoccupations.