Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Prodigals' Dreams: John Mcgahern's That They May Face the Rising Sun

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Prodigals' Dreams: John Mcgahern's That They May Face the Rising Sun

Article excerpt

Abstract. In this article I focus primarily on Irish writer John McGahern's last novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) and develop the argument that the parable of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament gospel of Luke offers a way to read McGahern's novels, an approach secured with his last novel. To give Rising Sun the necessary context for the prodigal discussion, I review the author's first five novels and briefly point out the journey motif in them. The longer discussion of That They May Face the Rising Sun then examines the various ways the parable offers us a lens through which to understand the return to Ireland of McGahern's protagonists. The article addresses recent scholarship, in particular Eamonn Hughes's study of Rising Sun in the Spring/Summer 2005 special edition of The Irish University Review dedicated to McGahern.

Keywords. John McGahern, Irish fiction, That They May Face the Rising Sun, parable of the Prodigal Son, community, identity, journey, homecoming, tradition.

Resumen. En este articulo me centro principalmente en la ultima novela del autor irlandes John McGahern, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) y propongo que la parabola del hijo prodigo del evangelio de Lucas del Nuevo Testamento da al lector las herramientas necesarias para acercarse a las novelas de McGahern, aproximacion que se confirma en su ultima novela. Con el fin de contextualizar el tema del hijo prodigo en Rising Sun reseno las primeras cinco novelas y destaco el tema del viaje en ellas. En el analisis detallado de That They May Face the Rising Sun se examinan las varias maneras en las que la parabola nos brinda un criterio a traves del cual podemos entender el regreso a Irlanda de los protagonistas de McGahern. El articulo se hace eco de investigaciones recientes, en particular el estudio de Eamonn Hughes en el volumen especial dedicado a McGahern de The Irish University Review en 2005.

Palabras clave. John McGahern, narrativa irlandesa, That They May Face the Rising Sun, parabola del Hijo Prodigo, comunidad, identidad, viaje, regreso a casa, tradicion.

John McGahern (1934-2006) was by many estimations one of Ireland's finest writers. His death from cancer in 2006 has left an artistic void world wide. His novels and short stories bridge the traditional and the experimental, and, taken as a whole, offer both a social portrait of 20th century Ireland from the early deValera years to the onset of the late century economic boom, and, as this paper will discuss, enact the archetypal prodigal journeys of human life. His sixth novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) (1), takes on a weightier position in the author's canon now that we see it as his last.

That They May Face the Rising Sun offers a curious twist on twentieth-century Irish emigration literature. Many twentieth-century Irish writers, even if primarily concerned with other issues, have sent characters into exile, choosing emigration, as Seamus Deane wrote, "as the only solution in a country where the problems, and the ambiguities, seemed insolvable" (1986: 172). Joyce's Stephen, Friel's Gareth, O'Flaherty's Michael and Mary Feeney, and Moore's Alice Barton serve as prime examples. Even the personal victory of Synge's Christie (2) is placed beside his departure. McGahern himself has portrayed an Ireland stagnant, closed, lonely, and depopulated where the urge to leave is prompted not so much by wanderlust as by self-preservation from suffocation by a "joyless and humiliating conformity" (Deane 1986: 180). This portrayal, writes Denis Sampson, offers an honest picture of the Ireland in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s (1991: 5).

While That They May Face the Rising Sun is about the Irish wanderer's pursuit of dreams and about emigration in the 20th century, McGahern has come full circle in his thematic journey, for here the immigrants, Joe and Kate Ruttledge, move to Ireland, not away from it, and for Joe it is a move back home. …

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