In different epochs and changeable cultural values, different restrictions are put by the society on its members. In that sense, absolute freedom of choice was not a term that was known for any ordinary person in any chosen time or space.
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The main issue of contradiction is to what extent these restrictions are against common sense and to what degree they are based on traditions, habits, and accepted manners. Another factor that should be taken into inconsideration is religiosity or to be accurate its absence, a term that could be defined as frivolity.
In the context of the aforementioned terms, the book” Without My Cloak” by Kate O’Brien approached this subject in detail.
This paper analyzes O’Brien’s work in an attempt to discuss the approach chosen by the author to present how the manner in which family, bourgeois values, and religion constrict individual members of the Considine family- the main protagonists in the novel.
The novel “Without My Cloak” was distinguished as the first literary mark for Kate O’Brien with its publication in 1931. Being raised in a middle-class family herself, O’Brien accurately transferred its way of life in Ireland, outlining in parallel some of its defects by ridiculing the values and the restrictions that can limit one’s freedom. The novel tells the story of a family in several generations, starting with an outline that a new life in a new town can begin even with a stolen horse.
The story goes through decades showing that hard work can overcome doubtful origins, and how the subsequent generations already were enjoying the life of a respected family in the society.
Although there were many turning points in the novel, the major one could be considered when the last descendant of the Considine’s- Dennis fell in love with a peasant girl, a fact that threatened the accumulated values that were built within this family for ages.
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It can be seen from the beginning of the novel that the author intended to emphasize the statement that the origins of success sometimes do not matter, as long as they were combined with hard work and determination.
Determination and strength were features that could not be taken away from Anthony Considine.
“His hair was wild and his ragged clothes were stained with sweat and dirt. But he wore his rags and the three days’ beard on his chin with as much ease as he carried his strength, all these things being natural to him”.
It can be seen how the middle-class origins of the author inspired the themes explored in the book, where the origins of our ancestors’ success do not matter as much as the importance the following generation put on keeping the social status and the material wealth along with pre-setting conventional rules they set between the man and the woman.
It cannot be said that these defects of the middle class were haunting O’Brien, rather than the fact that she found it worth mentioning as a factor that can poison their life.
Aside from the aforementioned preoccupied social rules, the novel in general addressed the theme of patriarchy, which also can serve as a restriction limit for the female characters in the novel.
This patriarchy, social rules, and social status serve through the whole novel as limits for the characters because of which they cannot develop. In general, these restrictions are related to the environment that they are living in.
This environment might act as a force and a reminder for the family as to what status they had reached and o what status they do not want to go back to.
This environment can have its influence from the education and the traditions, which O’Brien might have considered as an influencing force.
It can be seen the tradition as the society’s self-made tool works as a cage in which they keep all the accumulated values protected. In that sense, the Considine family, or at least the older members of the family all have joined this group of protection in fear of losing their accumulated values themselves.
In following the next limits imposed by the patriarchy, there is a defined pattern in constricting the society in general and the Considine family in particular.
This pattern is evident as the family is the supreme power in controlling their members, and in turn, they are controlled by the same rules by the church which is another constricting force and at the same time the most powerful. Both family bonds and church influence are constricting in the novel, the difference might be seen only in the order of their influence.
There are a lot of examples of characters influenced by such family bonds in the novel. One character is Caroline Considine who tries throughout the novel to conquer these bonds but fails.
Another character is Denis whose relation with Christina was a conflict itself. It should be mentioned, that it was Christina who acknowledged from the beginning the impossibility of their relations, because of the social boundaries, and the impossibility of her entering the Considine family circle.
These restrictions for Denis’s character go beyond the relationship with Christina, as there are thoughts about the fact that Mellick – the town that the story takes place, is in some way distanced from other places in the world, with their progress.
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This can be evident through his dreams of other places, “Paris, Rome, Heidelberg … with their books and learned men and their free familiarity with beauty’s progress and tradition.”
Despite the chosen portrayal of the Considine family, in a way show the author’s critique of the world they created for themselves, this world remained intact at the end of the novel.
This author’s position might imply that some position in life does not change with time, which can be considered as something you can witness or discuss but cannot be changed.
Going back through the themes of the novel, and the different representations of restrictions that can be put as a price for the social status, it can be concluded that this work is autobiographical in sense, and as the criticized moments changed neither in the novel nor in reality at that time.
After reading the novel, many conclusions can be made, although it is not evident at the first glance the most important is that the rules created by people, which with time turn into traditions need to be changed over time.
Manners, bourgeois values, and religion often act in favor of egoistic goals, a tradition that uncovers that people mostly create their world rather than it is forced on them. This truth acts like an iron shield that needs more time than the line analyzed in the novel to remove this shield.
The dismissal of Christine in favor of Denis at the end of the novel might be evidence of such truth. The author delivered the idea of a world with limits and restrictions, with the power being the limits created by the people themselves. The importance the middle class put for the social status and the material wealth the above the personal importance of the individual, and thus this chosen was ridiculed by the author.
Adele, Dalsimer M. Kate O’Brien: A Critical Study. Dublin Gill and Macmillan, 1990.
Eibhear, Walshe, ed. Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O’Brien. Cork: Cork UP, 1993.
Eibhear, Walshe. Kate O’Brien.A Writing Life. Dublin: Irish Academic P, 2006.
O’Brien, Kate. Without My Cloak. New York: Virago P, 1986.