Chapters 11-20

Karen Babine, UNL:
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Chapter 11: The Ballad-Maker
  • The intersection of songs/music, roads, and landscape?
  • What’s the role of language in this chapter?
  • “Their mother’s absence was so sharp that it felt like a presence, no less palpable for never being mentioned. But it flowed between the brothers like underground water” (88). Place is important here, because though Connemara is granite, just to the south in Clare (and on the Aran Islands), the bedrock is limestone and the underground water dissolves the rock into underground caves. An accidental move on O’Connor’s part?

Chapter 12: The Secret
  • Consider the relationship between music and the landscape.
  • Consideration of the balladeer’s craft (p. 99)—this will come up later, so you might want to make a note of it.
  • Natural disasters (like the Famine) as morality tales?
  • Intersection here of Pius Mulvey and Mary Duane, the parting of Pius and Nicholas. How are these represented on the page?

Chapter 13: The Bequest
  • Another letter form, a physical form, like the captain’s log, that one could tangibly hold? What do you make of the music at the end?
  • What is really going on in this chapter? What’s its purpose? Why bring in the new character of Merridith’s sister?
  • Again we get the footnotes. What do you make of them? How do they interrupt the narrative?
  • Natasha’s nickname—Rashers—is an Irish term for bacon. Naming issue here, nicknames—but also brings up Merridith’s unfortunate tendency to be ignorant about the starving people around him. This happens a couple times in this chapter, as well as elsewhere.
  • What do you make of Merridith’s voice here? How is it constructed?
  • Introduction of the built/urban environments—no less environmental for their construction. How is this developed? Houses? Architecture? Apartment suite?

Chapter 14: The Story-Teller
  • The first we really get of Dixon’s perspective.
  • Nature of truth and reality in this chapter: what can we really trust about what we’re being told? Who is Merridith, really?
  • Overarching consideration of what endures, what are the things that last?
  • Compare Dixon’s mode of composing to Mulvey’s?
  • Theme of escape.
  • What do we learn about Dixon? If dialogue is what characters do to each other, what are Dixon and Merridith doing to each other?

Chapter 15: The Father and his Son
  • Role of dreams in this chapter? Thin line between nightmare and reality? How does this pattern still cloud what we know and what we think we know? How is this constructed on the page?
  • What do you make of the use of dialogue in this chapter?
  • What’s the purpose of this chapter? How does it develop the long lines of the plot?

Chapter 16: The Power of Dark Things
  • Consider the lack of language in this chapter—how many times in this chapter does language fail?
  • Again, the persistence of smell.
  • The movement between religions and the overarching consideration of what is right, what is humane.

Chapter 17: The Suitor
  • From the argument: “a true and unadorned history” of David Merridith.
  • What happens if you juxtapose Merridith’s women: Mary Duane, Amelia Black, and Laura Markham?
  • How does this chapter question what it means to be a man? What it means to be a woman? What it means to be a good father, a good son?
  • An interesting juxtaposition of wild places and tamed places (157-158), what is proper language for a lady.
  • How many names are used for David Merridith in this chapter—and how does that correspond to different identities he carries?
  • Note the mention of the Battle of Baltimore, which happened during the war of 1812.
  • With the argument between David Merridith and his father, how did O’Connor construct the voice, the dialogue, the sarcasm?

Chapter 18: The Translator
  • Already in the chapter title, a nod towards language, the translation not only of Irish to English to phonetic spellings (on the page), but we also get the question of reality and authenticity, simply because what is said is being translated through Swales/Mulvey
  • What’s the purpose of the main action in this chapter,? What’s the purpose of the couple? Given the actions of the young man in the final paragraph of the chapter, were they just props so that Mulvey could get close to the captain again? Could a false reason for being in the Captain’s presence explain the footnote of what was said? Or is there something else going on?

Chapter 19: The Thief
  • In chapter 20, we get a timestamp of 1837. But the hurricane mentioned at the beginning of chapter 19 is likely (based on) The Night of the Big Wind, which happened in 1839. Several hundred people were killed, 42 ships destroyed. Maybe some creative license taken here with a real event.
  • But we also get a movement from this active landscape to the built environment of Belfast.
  • Watching the interplay between place and identity and language and naming is really interesting in this chapter.
  • The return of Mulvey’s music.
  • Croagh Patrick (mentioned on 179) is the holy mountain of St. Patrick’s, just outside of Westport, County Mayo, where legend has St. Patrick expelling all the snakes from Ireland.
  • Mention of Handel’s Messiah on 181—the first performance of Messiah was in Dublin in 1742.
  • How does O’Connor play with truth and reality and reliability in this chapter?
  • What do you make of the appearance of Dickens—especially with his mention during Dixon’s chapter?

Chapter 20: The Hard-Luck Man
  • What do you make of the prisoners being allowed to sing, but not to speak? And throughout the chapter, how does Mulvey subvert speech?
  • How does Mulvey manipulate his identity in this chapter?
  • What role does language play? The active role of the place in this chapter?
  • Thread of Milton throughout? What do you make of that?