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Portrayal of youth in “Ivy Day”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 02:37 am Leave a comment Go to comments

As I read through “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” I was struck by the two instances in which the canvassers talk about young people: in which Old Jack speaks of his 19-year-old son and the part where we see the shoeboy bringing them alcohol.  In both instances, the boys’ ages are specifically stated (19 and 17), maybe to emphasize their youth, and they both have some connection with alcohol.  Old Jack’s son is “worse whenever he gets a job; he drinks it all” (104) and, after the shoeboy drinks a bottle of stout, Old Jack comments, “That’s the way it begins” (111).  In the latter instance, I am taking “it” to be alcoholism, but I can also see Jack’s statement as a comment on growing up–drinking perhaps being a sign of coming-of-age (or something).

What I’m curious about in these two instances is how, if at all, the portrayal of youth and its relationship with alcohol is representative of the narrator’s perspective on the contemporary political climate and Ireland’s prospects for the future.   Does the alcoholism foretell future failures and shortcomings in Ireland’s political arena?  And if the notion of alcoholism in youth does symbolize problems for the future, then what are we to make of the older men’s penchant for drink?  Could this be more representative of continuing problems (in a more broad sense than just drinking) in Irish society and politics, being handed down from generation to generation?

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