In The Family on Paradise Pier by Dermot Bolger, some interesting themes are brought to light about Ireland and the interactions of people living there. This is one work that tells the overarching story of Irish history from a cultural perspective and from a highly personalized point of view. Starting with the trials and tribulations of one particular family, Bolger uses this placeholder to delve into issues surrounding all of Ireland at that time. The Goold Verschoyle family, and more specifically the children, act as a clear representation of an entire class of Irish people growing up in the early twentieth century.
Bolger paints the picture of an Ireland where people were often forced to struggle and where people experienced challenges as they attempted to make transitions. He paints a portrait of Ireland as a place that was fluid and dynamic, always changing with the times. Because of that, the people in Ireland had a hard time finding their place between the two World Wars and beyond. The political climate was such that people were forced to adapt quickly, and the socioeconomic conditions were such that even people with inherent advantages went through some struggles as a result of their heritage.
It could be said that the Ireland in this Bolger work is a complicated and confusing place, and it is one where children are forced to constantly reconsider their goals, dreams, and aspirations. The author does his very best to frame the struggles of an entire generation through the experiences of one family, which might not be a complete portrait, but it is quite obviously representative of an entire sector of the population in question. One important theme to consider in this work is how Ireland changed over time.
The author uses to young children in the story to show how expectations and how experiences changed as Ireland was brought into the war. In the beginning, Ireland was a place where children felt safe and they felt as if opportunity was on the horizon. The portrait of Ireland was a positive one at that point in time, though it would most certainly change as the story went along. The book, the author writes of young Eva, “Eva thought it was glorious to wake up with this sense of expectation. The entire day would be spent outdoors, with their family chattering away on the back of Mr.
Ffrench’s aeroplane cart as Eva dangled her legs over the swaying side and held down her wide-brimmed hat with one hand in the breeze. Sure no other bliss to equal this” (Bolger, 2006). In this, one can see that Ireland was a land of opportunity in the early going. Children felt as if they had the world at their feet, with different chances abounding. It is certainly worth noting that these children grew up in a privileged home, but that does not change the fact that Ireland offered them something. It was a place where life could not get any better, and where the entire family had time to worry about leisure.
As the story goes along, Bolger traces the development of Ireland, as it goes from being a place where children can play and enjoy themselves to being a place where fear is rampant. This all has to do with the war and the political transitions taking place in the country in the early twentieth century. As the work continues along, the children grow up, and that allows the author to take on some more serious themes. While the early part of the book is spent describing how lovely it is to grow up in Ireland at that time, the next portion of the book describes the children as they struggle to fit in with the changing political landscape.
Additionally, it shows Ireland as a place where rigid rules dictate a host of different things. These rules dictate, specifically, how things are passed down and what role the oldest son will take as he grows older. This is something that was important in Irish society, and it is something that weighed heavy on the mind of Art. As with many items in this work, Bolger uses that character as a representative for his generation at large, tracing their collective struggle through his somewhat common experiences. The author writes, “All the house cats belonged to Father.
Mother’s pleasure arose from holding any baby in her arms. Eva was the only baby she ever rejected, just for a brief moment after Eva was born. ‘Take her away’, she had ordered the nurse because – having already borne one daughter – she was convinced that she had been carrying that all-important son and heir” (Bolger, 2006). This shows not only the importance of the first born son in Irish tradition, but also the struggle that may have been felt by young women in Ireland at the time. Bolger paints a portrait of Ireland that is not exactly favorable toward women.
Though it may have been a fine place to grow up for young Eva in the beginning, the society was most certainly slanted toward men and satisfying their desires. The fathers wanted and needed sons to carry on their bloodlines, which put a tremendous amount of pressure on the family dynamic, and causes some internal strife for daughters in Irish society at that time. Whether this is a clear and complete picture of Irish society is a debate all in itself, but this is the representation that Bolger puts into play with his words. One thing that that author is sure to touch on is the relationship of politics in the changing Irish society.
Young men were almost forced to have a political opinion, and they were required to juggle this political activism with their own family responsibilities. Because the role of the first-born son was so important in Irish society, boys born into that role had certain expectations placed upon them. They were to be responsible, mature, and they were to make the best possible decisions. Family and society at large put these tremendous pressures on them, and boys were constantly pulled from their own thoughts to consider those things that the family held dear.
In a society where the political landscape was constantly changing, this created an interesting dynamic for young boys. The author specifically uses the situation of Art to bring this point to light. He is one who is getting caught up the communist movement, taking to its nuances and trying to get more involved. Still, he does not quite understand how to balance his newfound political activism with the type of responsibilities and burdens that are placed on his shoulders by the family.
The author writes of this, “All night Art had been arguing with university friends about Italian politics in Fletcher’s rooms near Blackfriars. Fletcher was not of like mind to the others: he saw nothing wrong in truckloads of Il Duce’s fascists storming into Milan to end the communist-led strike there with the black-shirted thugs tearing down the Bolshevik flags hanging from the town hall. Fletcher could not understand why Art took such matters so seriously” (Bolger, 2006). Art was caught up in the political movement and it put pressure on the entire family dynamic.
As he became more of a free thinker, he began to question many aspects of Irish society. This inner dialogue provides the author with the perfect opportunity to expand out his thoughts on Irish society at large. This expansion goes into the “unchangeable” nature of life in Ireland. Though things all around the children were changing, with wars and political movements and new technologies, the children themselves had no ability to change their stars, at least according to the author. This is because of how the author paints Ireland as a society highly steeped in tradition.
Things were set in stone years before, which meant that children essentially had their lives mapped out on the basis of random chance, and not on the basis of what they were capable of accomplishing. The first-born son is a perfect example of this, as he is to inherit all of the wealth built up by the family, while his siblings were left to fight for the scraps. This is something that Art had to grapple with, as he could not wrap his mind around why he had gotten so lucky in this regard.
He saw this as a twisted society, and it was certainly not the portrait painted by a naive young girl in the early part of the book. As things changed in Irish society and the children grew, they came to find that perhaps their opportunities were more limited than they had originally figured. By no fault of their own, they were shoehorned into one particular life path, while first-born sons were able to enjoy the spoils of their fortunate timing. The author writes of this, “Yet the more he studied politics the more he realized that he was like them.
All that distinguished him from his siblings was a fluke of birth, a throw of the dice yielding him absolute access to wealth while the others were left to scramble for minor bequests. Past generations had ensured that this was a chalice he could not refuse. Short of dying, Art had no means of breaking that cycle of indenture” (Bolger, 2006). What is interesting about this take is that the author actually paints it as a struggle for the person receiving the fortuitous treatment.
This paints a portrait of Ireland as a society where even people who have the advantages are forced to feel trapped. Even though Art had everything that he could have asked for in order to make a success of his life, he still felt as if his life had little freedom. Perhaps that is why he associated so well with the communist movement, as it was something that seemed familiar to him over the long haul. It is important that the author painted the family as being happy and loving in the beginning, as it allows him to paint a stark contrast in the end.
He represents the family as being torn apart by all of the environmental changes taking place in Ireland and in larger Europe during the years surrounding the World War. The author writes, “The Goold Vershoyle children were born into a respected freethinking Protestant family in a Manor House alive with laughter, debate and fascinating guests. But the world of picnics and childish infatuations is soon under threat as political changes within Ireland and the whole world encroach upon their private paradise” (Bolger, 2006).
As the story goes on to describe, the family dynamic all about Ireland was being nearly destroyed by boys who felt the need to become politically active. As Art got deeper and deeper into the throws of communism, his family gained resentment, and the happy home was torn into something ugly. It was a place where people were once again being restricted, this time by the expectations that society so diligently placed on young men who were to inherit their family’s possessions.
The author has Cousin George indicate in the book, “The family’s reputation was being indelibly eroded by Art’s willful madness in embracing communism, which he considered to be a cancer gradually infecting them all. Such lunacy might be all right for pagans like the Ffrenches, but his uncle was always too soft in allowing inflammatory discussions at the table” (Bolger, 2006). The need for discussion that burned within a newly active political generation was boiling over, causing tension and breeding strife that might not have been there in the beginning.
In this, the author paints the portrait of an Ireland full of differing viewpoints, even within households. It was a place where people were forced to take sides, even if that was not a natural act for them. As things changed, the movement swept up everyone, so much so that it became a part of daily life for even the most respected families in the country. There are a number of representations of Ireland that are presented in this work, most of them dealing with the changing political landscape and the idea of opportunity.
The author paints a portrait of Ireland that includes much inner-strife and he shows that it is a place where the goals and dreams of children are replaced by the realities of growing up. With communism thrown into the mix as an extra detractor from the family dynamic, he represents Ireland as a place that is highly splintered, with different viewpoints attempting to climb on top of one another for position and leverage. Works Cited Bolger, Dermot. “The Family on Paradise Pier”. 1 May 2006. HarperPerennial Purblishing.
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