Deconstructing Stereotypes in the Discourse of the Irish Republic: The Irish Woman Through the Lens of the Celtic Tiger and Post-Celtic Tiger Short Story

Deconstructing Stereotypes in the Discourse of the Irish Republic: The Irish Woman Through the Lens of the Celtic Tiger and Post-Celtic Tiger Short Story

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6458-5.ch013
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Recent decades have witnessed in Ireland the advancement and integration of women in the socio-cultural and public spheres. Nonetheless, what does it mean to be Irish and a woman in today's Irish Republic? This period has seen a notable emergence of a generation of new feminine voices that have marked a change in the image offered of the Irish woman until this present moment, an image provided previously almost only by male writers and constructed mainly in terms of religiosity, passivity and motherhood. The short stories written by women at the turn of the 21st century highlight the change in both the perception and position of the Irish woman within her society; however, the Celtic Tiger and Post Celtic Tiger short stories frequently look back into Ireland's past to explore the present to challenge and understand former and contemporary dominant narratives, discourses and stereotypes. This is also the major objective of this chapter.
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Always the same metaphor: we follow it, it carries us, beneath all its figures, where discourse is organized. If we read or speak, the same thread or double braid is leading us throughout literature, philosophy, criticism, centuries of representation and reflection. Thought has always worked through opposition, (...) Through dual, hierarchical oppositions. Superior/Inferior. (Cixous,1996, p. 63)



History is selective. Being the exception rather than the rule, Irish history is selective too. It has been selective and continues to be so in the depiction of its women. His-story is capricious, silencing, conspiratorial, to the extent that it has become almost a cliché to say that women were stereotyped, invisible in the past or have been written out of (male) history (Cullen, 1985, p. 254). It would be wrong, nevertheless, to look at Ireland and consider it a special case for the way the nation marginalized and created specific (and passive) roles for Irish women while leaving them, more than frequently, out of the annals of history. In this sense, Ireland followed general trends, although it is true that cultural, national, geographical, religious, economic, and historical factors have conditioned the conceptualization of womanhood and the Irish feminist identity towards more globally divergent and more enduring patterns than elsewhere in the western world.

Women’s incessantly-voiced rebellions against their subjection to stereotyping, confinement, underrepresentation, and sociocultural segregation over the centuries can be reconstructed as if they were puzzles whose pieces for assembling come from a rich variety of sources such as not only folklore, biographies, diaries and letters, but also from state papers, court records, and documents provided by different organizations, transformed into literary material. This is how women’s limited and silenced discourse over the generations has created a submerged invisible history that emerges vigorously to animate the fiction of these female Irish short story writers (Moloney, 2003, p. 7) and the wider paradigm of Ireland’s artistic production.

Born of a vibrant oral storytelling tradition and strongly rooted in the Gaelic heritage, the contemporary short story stands at the very heart of Ireland, depicting faithfully and with diligence its inventions (Kiberd, 1995), and reinventions (Kirby, Gibbons & Cronin, 2002), accompanying the country’s people over the centuries. For the entire twentieth century, and later at the turn of the twenty-first, short pieces of literary fiction written by Leland Bardwell, Mary Beckett, Sara Berkeley, Maeve Binchy, Elizabeth Bowen, Claire Boylan, Evelyn Conlon, Mary Costello, Emma Donoghue, Mary Dorcey, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan, Val Mulkern, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Edna O’Brien, Kate O’Brien, Bridget O’Connor, Julia O’Faolain, and Isabella Augusta Persse, just to mention a few, have been describing the lives of Irish women. Although, frequently, many of these authors “remain under-acknowledged by the critical literati”(Gunne, 2012, p. 1), and are often shunted to the darker and dustier corners of the canon and the class curriculum, their short stories have endowed Anglo-Irish literature with invaluable material meant to rescue, construct, affirm, value, and renegotiate the Irish woman’s image, identity, and position within the past Irish panorama and the context of today’s capitalist society by exposing “the different experiences that come with that position” (D´hoker, 2016, p. 9). Nowadays, in the post-Celtic-Tiger Republic1, these literary revendications count for their reading with a substantial and solid theoretical background provided by a multitude of female voices and other subaltern studies that are manifesting themselves buoyantly in Irish literary criticism, exploring a wide range of aspects from imperial feminism, post-colonialism, nationalism, familism, gender, and sexuality, to migration and diaspora (Sydora, 2015, p. 114). All these aspects mirror the interest for this integratory exercise that functions beyond the academic world, and which encompasses the vertiginous rhythm of social, cultural, economic, political, and religious changes occurring in contemporary Ireland.

In view of this, the contemporary short stories that belong to the miscellanies authored by Evelyn Conlon (Telling New and Selected Stories, 2000), Mary Costello (The China Factory, 2012), Anne Enright (The Portable Virgin, 2007; Taking Pictures, 2008), Claire Keegan (Antarctica, 2000; Walk the Blue Fields, 2007), or Éilís Ní Dhuibhne (The Inland Ice and Other Stories, 1997; The Pale Gold of Alaska and Other Stories, 2000; Midwife to the Fairies, 2003; The Shelter of Neighbours, 2012) are taken in the following pages as the objects of analysis.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Womanhood: The state of being a woman.

Celtic Tiger Short Story: The short stories written between 1995 and 2008.

Celtic Tiger Ireland: A period of an unprecedent economic growth, mad consumerism, and socio-cultural openness deploying from 1995 until 2007, date coinciding with the Global Recession, also known as the Celtic Tiger, The Boom or Ireland’s Economic Miracle.

Gender: The interpretations of the biological realities associated to the two sexes which are defined and perceived through the prism of human conventions that regularize and organize behavior, thoughts, and roles in society.

Stereotypes: Over-generalized conceptualization, belief, or expectation about a group of people. Stereotypes are created in relation to gender but also in relation to the different races, cultures, ethnicities.

Motherhood: The role of being a mother.

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