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Allie Moss 31 October 2011 ³Thinks yees all she¶s too many notions´: an analysis of the critical work around Marina Carr¶s By the Bog of Cats... Marina Carr¶s By the Bog of Cats« is a complex and multi-layered work. On the most basic level, it is a retelling of Euripides¶ Medea set in rural Ireland near the turn of the twentyfirst century, but it also has far-reaching literary and social implications. By the Bog of Cats... deals with the status of poor, rural, Irish women, the treatment of the Traveler community, and the leftover effects of British colonialism as well as the new implications of European modernization. The work is best understood through a feminist, racial, and postcolonial lens so that the reader or audience member is attuned to Carr¶s statement about the less than desirable conditions in contemporary Ireland. Before one can delve into a critical analysis of By the Bog of Cats..., one must first understand its place in canonical Irish theatre. The work is thematically and structurally informed by Carr¶s literary predecessors Yeats, Synge, and Beckett. Carr claims that while she has read the aforementioned playwrights, she is not particularly influenced by their work and she asserts that her inspiration has come from American writers Tennessee Williams and Eugene O¶Neill (Watt 170). However, there are some unmistakable elements developed by her theatrical forefathers that have made their way (consciously or not) into her work. Hester Swane, the protagonist of By the Bog of Cats« has her roots in traditional Irish folklore. As Richard Russell asserts in his essay on the connection between Carr and past Irish playwrights, Hester is a descendent of ³the filidh, the Irish bard who passed down memories and stories with a great degree of integrity because of [her] staggering memory«Hester Swane is a

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contemporary filidh figure, a source of local folklore and teller of stories; she is feared for her curses, much as the older Gaelic bards were.´ (152) Hester as a character has a definite mysticism about her, which is introduced at the play¶s outset through her interaction with the Ghost Fancier and reinforced when the Catwoman, who by her precognitive dreams and visions is understood to have some spiritual and psychic power, says ³You¶re my match in witchery, Hester, same as your mother was´ (Carr 273). Hester¶s supernatural power stems from her position as the filidh in her community, making Carr¶s representation of Hester as a truth-teller distinctly Irish. Furthermore, By the Bog of Cats« has distinct parallels to some specific works by earlier Irish playwrights. As Russell discusses in his essay, Carr has seemingly borrowed some of her plot devices from Yeats¶ 1938 play entitled Purgatory. In Yeats¶ work, a travelling father and son stop in front of the house of the father¶s youth where the ghosts of his parents are in the process of conceiving him. The father mentions that at his son¶s age, he killed his own father over money and then proceeds to kill his son with the same knife, again seemingly out of greed. The audience then learns that he killed his son to break the vicious cycle of poverty and suffering, reasoning that his son would meet a girl, have a child, and thereby predestine the grandson to incur the same fate. There are clear parallels to Carr¶s work, including the assumed and then disproved motive of greed for the murders. When Joseph Swane, the brother that Hester murdered, returns as a ghost and confronts Hester about their past, she insists that she killed him not to gain more of the money that they were supposed to split but because in her mind, he took her mother away from her. Hester asserts, ³Ya think I slit your throat for the few auld pound me father left me?...Should have been with her for always and would have only for you´ (Carr 321). In all the murders, it is significant that the same knife is used, symbolizing the

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connection between violence and the impossible goals of the characters (ending the cycle of waiting for her mother and ending the cycle of poverty and despair for Hester and the Old Man, respectively). Furthermore, the violent killing of children in both works is subverted by a tenderness in motivation. As Russell notes: ³While this perceived suffering on the part of Yeats's Old Man for his mother and Carr's Hester for her daughter bespeaks their deluded states of mind, their child murders also spring from a real love for their offspring. After the Old Man kills his son, he sings him a lullaby´ (161). Both kill their children so that they will not be left to the same fate as their parents. Additionally, Carr¶s work has connections to the plays of J. M. Synge. In Synge¶s The Playboy of the Western World, Christy Mahon, the character described by the title, wanders into a small Irish village and achieves instant fame and popularity based on the continuallyembellished story that he killed his over-controlling father with a garden spade. Russell notes, ³the important link between Carr's Hester and Synge's Christy is that both are wandering storytellers who bind themselves to communities through their use of heightened language.´ (156) Carr takes the ³use of heightened language´ even further than Synge; while Christy uses his storytelling ability to gain an amiable status, Hester uses her language to frighten the people in her community in an attempt to demand their respect. The difference is that Hester¶s ³stories´ are the eyebrow-raising histories of the people on the bog (as opposed to Christy who brings a story from outside the community), and the language is heightened in Carr¶s work because Hester has the power to reveal her neighbors¶ secrets. In both, most of the violence happens offstage, but Carr builds on Synge¶s grotesque descriptions. There is something vaguely comical in the absurdity of Christy killing his father with a spade, but nothing is funny about Hester¶s description of finding Xavier¶s son: ³Wasn¶t it me that found him, strychnined to the eyeballs,

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howlin¶ ¶long the bog and his dog in his arms?...Ya know what strychnine does, a tayspoonful is all it takes, and ya¶d the dog showered in it. Burnt his hands clean away´ (Carr 329). As Bernadette Bourke discusses Carr¶s contribution to the use of the grotesque in the Irish theatrical cannon, ³the playfulness of Synge¶s grotesque is absent in [Carr¶s work], and« [it] no longer provokes the congenial laughter in shock of these mutated accounts´ (136). Finally, Carr¶s play bears a resemblance to some aspects of Samuel Beckett¶s Waiting for Godot. Hester cannot leave the Bog of Cats because she is waiting for her mother to return, just as Estragon and Vladimir cannot leave their spot on the road because Godot might arrive in their absence. Both sets of characters spend their lives waiting for outcomes that the audience members (and in Carr¶s work, the other characters) know will not come to pass. This wanting to leave (or being asked to leave by others) simultaneously creates a sense of stasis and tension: although it would benefit the characters to move on, their decision to stay has been inexorably made before the play began. Additionally, Carr¶s physical setting of the play evokes both Beckett¶s location for Godot and Yeats¶ bleak set for Purgatory. Bernadette Bourke notes that the play seems to be ³set in a Beckettian no-man¶s land´ (139), and Russell agrees that ³Hester Swane«lives a purgatorial existence in a wintry wasteland that bears some resemblance to the empty landscape surrounding Beckett's tramps´ (165). Through her similarities to Yeats¶ plot devices, Synge¶s grotesquerie, and Beckett¶s physical world, Carr continues the conventions of the Irish theatrical tradition, and by heightening their intensity she makes them distinctly her own. It is notable that all of these authorial influences, both the predecessors in Irish theater and the ones that Carr names as inspiration, are male. In her forward to the book Women in Irish Drama, Carr explains that theater-making, in addition to being a traditionally male-dominated

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field, is a difficult business for women because ³there is a very public nature of rehearsal and performance that goes against the nature of how women have been traditionally perceived. And sometimes against how women see themselves´ (x). In By the Bog of Cats« Carr subtly addresses the connection between the private, the public, and the political as it relates to women, as well as other under-explored topics such as female identity, female experience, and female space. In her essay on the connection between women and exile in Carr¶s work, Cathy Leeny notes, ³the challenge for women playwrights has been to map theatrical landscapes in which their perceptions and experiences might create performances which mark their exile from the tropes and traps so robustly promoted by postcolonial cultural formation´ (162). Through her textured and complex portrayal of her female characters, Carr¶s play attempts to meet this challenge. By the Bog of Cats« depicts a female experience that both highlights the inequalities faced by Irish traveling women and celebrates the bonds of female love. Despite her connection to the place, Hester¶s experience on the bog has been a difficult one. Although Carthage, Hester¶s partner of fourteen years, is certainly not a despicable character, there is no question that he has treated Hester poorly. He is, in essence, exchanging her for a younger and richer model, and Hester is right in her accusation that he is ³selling [her] and Josie down the river for a few lumpy auld acres and notions of respectability´ (Carr 289). Additionally, it is suggested that Carthage and Xavier¶s method of obtaining Hester¶s land was not entirely honorable, and Hester complains that she ³was bein¶ coerced and bullied from all sides´ (293). Hester¶s other experiences with Xavier are questionable as well, and she expresses concerns about leaving Josie around him and even hints at past relations between Xavier and his own daughter that may have been sexual and abusive in nature. When he comes to her house, Hester insinuates that he may

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have also taken advantage of her when she asserts, ³I¶ve a right to sit in me own yard without bein¶ ogled by the likes of you´ (293). Her accusations are corroborated in the last act when Xavier gropes her with his loaded gun. Other women have had difficult experiences as well: when she fell ill, Olive Cassidy was at her husband¶s mercy and consequently died, and it is clear to both Caroline Cassidy and the audience that her marriage to Carthage is not about love and happiness but about the exchange of money and land between her father and her new husband. Near the end of the play, Caroline admits to Hester, ³Everywan too loud and frantic ± and when you turned up in that weddin¶ dress, knew it should have been you ± and Daddy drinkin¶ too much and shoutin¶ and Carthage gone away in himself, just watchin¶ like it had nothin¶ to do with him, and everywan laughin¶ behind me back and pityin¶ me-´ (336). Even the disagreeable Mrs. Kilbride is not exempt, and her attachment to Carthage becomes more reasonable once it is understood that she only defines herself in relation to him (that is, as his mother), and in giving up her son she also loses her identity. Although she is not a particularly likable character, it is clear that she has had a hard life. She describes her seven-year-old self as a workhorse, recalling, ³when I was seven I was cookin¶ dinners for a household of men, I was thinnin¶ turnips twelve hour a day, I was birthin¶ calves, stookin¶ hay, laden¶ a bull by his nose´ (Carr 278). Mrs. Kilbride is overworked and underappreciated (no one even thinks to commend her on all of the money that she¶s saved for her family) and her bitterness comes through in her treatment of anyone who tries to, in her eyes, take her son away from her. In her essay on the body and identity, Mary King summarizes the female experience that Carr presents: ³[w]omen, in The Bog of Cats«, arrayed for the bridal or for communion in white which mimics the ice-cold world which kills the black swan, are treated as commodities. They are reified, prostituted, and violated sexually, consumed by and

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incorporated into the cash nexus´ (57). When their fates are left to the men in their society, the women of the Bog of Cats suffer. Although her reasons for killing Josie were complex, King¶s assertion that ³[Hester] will take the girl child Josie with her into the Bog of Cats rather than have her repeat her own quest for a denied identity and a missing mother in a male dominated society´ (58) is valid. The female child is an important change from the original Medea story: if Hester had a son, he would have been able to better cope with the patriarchal culture of the bog and she would have had less of a reason to take his life. Despite their disparaging position, Carr¶s women do break the mold of traditional femininity. As Emily Kader notes in her essay on the play, ³[Big] Josie Swane had both a shameless sexuality and a voice of her own, and she further defied convention by placing both as well as her proclivity for drink - above her role as a mother´ (172). Hester has many of the same qualities, although some of them are muted: she drinks to forget about killing her brother, she is not afraid to tell off Carthage and Xavier when they try to make her leave her home, and she leaves her daughter to go wandering on the bog. Unfortunately, most of these qualities, while they stray from the stereotypically feminine, do not endear the characters to the audience. While Big Josie had every right not to self-identify solely through motherhood, there is nothing honorable about leaving a seven-year-old child to fend for herself. Likewise, while it is perfectly acceptable that Hester is a sexual being, her involvement with Carthage when he was only sixteen is questionable. Although Melissa Shira asserts in her essay on feminine space in Carr¶s work that ³Hester burns down the house of the patriarchal order of the play´ (212), Hester¶s defiant act foreshadows the violence that will doom her daughter and ultimately herself. When Hester and Big Josie break out of their feminine roles, it cannot usually be seen as a demand for equality unless it is a demand to be as equally selfish and violent as the men.

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Another nuanced presentation of feminism in By the Bog of Cats« is Carr¶s portrayal of mother-daughter relationships. This may be carried over from the Greek tradition of the original Medea, as M. K. Martinovich notes in an analysis of the play: ³mother-love, as the Greek construction of gender proposes, is the µmost powerful µnatural¶ emotional bond¶´ (121). It is clear that they are the most important relationships in the play: Hester has spent her life remembering her mother and awaiting her return, and she kills her own daughter so that she will not have to endure the same fate. Even Hester¶s relationship with Carthage is secondary to her attachment to her mother and to her daughter, and her upset at his leaving is rooted in the fear of abandonment that was instilled when she watched her mother walk away onto the bog. She says near the end of the play, ³all me life people have walked away without a word of explanation´ (326). However, while it is not insignificant that the protagonist¶s strongest connections are with the women in her life, Hester¶s tie to her mother brings about her demise. In a discussion of the play as tragedy, Martinovich correctly notes, ³Hester¶s tragic fall is brought about by her eternal belief that her mother will return one day and by her hope of a reciprocal manifestation of her daughterly affection and love´ (127). It is because Hester continues to wait for her mother that she cannot leave the bog and potentially save herself and her daughter. Additionally, this theme of betrayal is repeated but reversed with Hester and Caroline: when Caroline¶s father left her mother to die Hester became a maternal figure for Caroline, only to have Caroline grow up and marry the father of Hester¶s child. Also, the significance of Hester¶s relationship with Josie is tainted by their final moments together. Although Hester kills her daughter out of love and not vengeance, Bernadette Bourke is not entirely correct in her statement that ³Carr has subverted the very notion of violence itself, by couching it in gentle, protective, motherly terms´ (141).

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Regardless of her motives, Hester¶s act is a violent one and Carr makes no attempt to hide that her protagonist slits her child¶s throat. Despite their strength and resilience, the women of By the Bog of Cats« (as well as those of her other plays) have attracted feminist critics. Emily Kader proposes that ³perhaps Carr's protagonists' undeniable need for the men in (as well as those out of) their lives is what makes some critics uncomfortable with her personal brand of feminism´ (168). On the surface, she is correct: at the beginning of the play Hester says, ³my life doesn¶t hang together without [Carthage],´ (269), towards the middle she begs ³tell me what to do, Carthage, and I¶ll do it, anythin¶ for you to come back,´ (289), and at the end of the play she kills herself. However, her need for Carthage stems from her fear of abandonment, and has more to do with her mother than with her would-be husband. Clare Wallace makes a stronger argument, and critiques the gloomy predestination to which Hester and other of Carr¶s female protagonists ascribe. Wallace argues, ³[Carr¶s female characters] are haunting because of their chronic inability to imagine freedom, and their subsequent descent into«the abjection of the self´ (435). By staying on the bog, Hester accepts the fate that is foreshadowed in the opening scene, both in the presence of the Ghost Fancier and the dead and bloody black swan she drags behind her. Despite Catwoman¶s assertion that ³there¶s ways round curses,´ (Carr 276) and that Hester could save herself, Hester does not try to leave the bog and brings her death about with her own hand. Of Hester¶s suicide, Wallace remarks ³Carr¶s heroines«seem to abdicate from a confrontation with the patriarchy, or if they do engage they, disappointingly, throw in the towel by committing suicide´ (435). However, both critics overlook the ending in connection to the play¶s genre. It might be more satisfying for a feminist audience if the play ended with Hester alive and fighting, but the themes of death and predestination are inspired by Medea and Greek tragedy as a whole. Given these

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circumstances and the fact that the play could not possibly end well for its protagonist, Hester clearly thought that she was making the strongest possible choice as both her literal and figurative ghosts will haunt the people who have done her harm. This does not invalidate Wallace¶s point, however, as it presents the audience with an Ireland where in order to be heard, women must oxymoronically silence themselves forever. Thus, although By the Bog of Cats« cannot be viewed as an entirely feminist play, it is notable that it devotes its attention to depicting the struggle of one woman¶s life as well as to the important (albeit destructive) relationships with the other women in her family. Inseparably intertwined with Carr¶s message about women in By the Bog of Cats« is her message about exile. Hester is on the brink of being forced to leave the land she calls home throughout the play, but as Shira notes, the exile in the Swane family began at least a generation before: ³[Big Josie Swane¶s disappearance]«compound[s] the association of woman with displacement, exile and historical erasure´ (212). Although she chose to leave, Big Josie is not welcome by the community of the bog, and her memory is displaced and erased as the people she once knew can, on the whole, only recall the worst things about her. Hester¶s impending exile is foreshadowed as soon as the play opens with Hester and the swan, because, as Kader notes, ³in Irish literature birds and the people associated with them are figured as exiles or symbols thereof´ (169). The threat of exile is particularly powerful for Hester because it would mean that she must leave the bog, which to her is a symbol of her mother¶s eventual return as well as the only distinctly feminine space in her world. As a result, her right to a female place and her identity are also at stake. Hester has, for the majority of her life, defined herself in relation to her mother and the land that represents Big Josie. In this light, her assertion that ³[she] can¶t go until [her] mother comes´ (Carr 316) makes sense: if she is not waiting for her mother, her life would,

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in her eyes, lack a purpose. This connection carries over to the people of the bog, and as Kader argues, ³it has been made clear that Hester has very few real friends, but, as the members of the community are part of the makeup of the landscape through which Hester defines herself, she depends on their nearness for her own self-identification´ (182). Hester¶s primary motivation for her refusal to leave her home is that if she were to walk away from the land, she would also have to abandon her definition of herself. Because of the connection between exile, land, and identity, Hester¶s death ³is reframed as the final resistance´ (Leeny 158). Although in the play, Joseph mentions that ³death¶s a big country,´ (Carr 318), in the world of the Bog of Cats, the dead and the living exist in the same physical space. Kader asserts that ³ghosts pervade this world and are, themselves, an irremovable part of the landscape of the Bog of Cats. In death, Hester is physically returning to the bog´ (184). Hester appears to believe the same, and she details for Carthage how her death will cement her permanence in the bog: ³Ya won¶t forget me now, Carthage, and when all of this is over or half remembered and you think you¶ve almost forgotten me again, take a walk along the Bog of Cats and wait for the purlin¶ wind through your hair of a soft breath near your ear or a rustle behind ya. That¶ll be me and Josie ghostin¶ ya´ (Carr 340). Hester continues to stake a claim over her feminine space, and should Carthage enter it in the future, she guarantees that he will feel her presence. In a way, Hester has also returned to her mother in becoming a part of the bog. Bourke describes Hester¶s death as ³a return to the great nurturing womb of nature, the giver of life, death, and continuity´ (139). This description portrays the bog as distinctly maternal, and through Hester¶s escape from exile she retains her identity, completes her cycle of waiting, and defends her right to the female space of the bog.

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In addition to her vulnerable position as an unmarried woman in this society, Hester¶s status as a Traveler also makes her a strong candidate for exile. Hester is a clear Other in the community on the bog, and by identifying against her, the settled people strengthen the ties between themselves. As King notes, ³The settled people«cannot afford to accept Hester on equal terms. To do so would jeopardize their epistemic µwe¶, which can only guarantee its legitimacy by defining itself against her, by making her leave µtheir¶ place´ (57). The people of the Bog of Cats have a tenuously constructed history that is wrought with death and crime, and they are able to bond together as community through making a common enemy out of Hester Swane. Even though some of her neighbors are more sympathetic to her than others (Monica, Catwoman, and to some extent, Caroline), none of them are willing to stand up for her and risk becoming an outcast as well. In her essay on the portrayal of Travelers in Marina Carr¶s plays, Margaret Maxwell asserts, ³integral to the entrenched racism«is the very strength of the sense of community in Ireland´ (124). Carr clearly presents this identification against the Other in her play, and uses it to show that Hester is already an exile of sorts within the community even before she is made to leave the bog. A further reason that Hester refuses to leave the bog is that it is a place where she is allowed the traditional wanderings of a Traveler. Although she is not moving through the countryside, she is able to walk the bog as she pleases. Maxwell notes that the bog is ³the symbolic site of«the freedom to roam´ (127), which Hester would not be able to do if she was forced to live in the house that Carthage has bought for her in a nearby town. After setting fire to her house, she asserts that she ³never liked that house anyway,´ (Carr 322), and throughout the play it is mentioned that she spends a fair amount of time at the caravan and even sleeps there on some occasions. Therefore, exiling Hester to a town is a harsher punishment than just banishing

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her from the bog, because in doing so the settled community is insisting that she renounce her Traveler identity in order to become more like them. Carr¶s portrayal of Travelers in By the Bog of Cats« is for the most part favorable. On the whole, Carr seems to side with the older Irish traditions that are associated with Travelers and that the settled people on the bog are seemingly trying to forget. As King mentions, ³the Catwoman has (limited) powers of prophecy, which the µsettled¶ people seem to ignore´ (54), most likely because they have moved into a ³modern´ era that discounts all ways of knowing aside from reason and science. They pay for their unwillingness to listen, often with the lives of people they love. Also, the protagonist is not ashamed of her Travelers status, and while there are racial insults flung at her from other characters (mainly Mrs. Kilbride), it is made clear through the text that the people making such claims are strongly and unacceptably prejudiced. At times, even Cathage uses Hester¶s status against her: because of the Travelers¶ tradition of staying in one place for a while and then leaving, his suggestion that she ³move onto another haltin¶ site´ (289) is racially loaded. Hester hurls insults right back at Carthage when she responds, ³and as for me tinker blood, I¶m proud of it. It«allows me to see yees for the inbred, underbred, bog-brained shower yees are´ (289). By creating a character who defiantly claims her Traveler roots, Carr presents the problems faced by Travelers without deliberately perpetuating the stigma. Carr¶s work denotes the importance of genealogy in separating the Travelers from the settled people. In the most literal sense, Hester is not a traditional Traveler because she does not go around to different parts of the country and beg or offer to do labor for pay, but she is considered part of the itinerant culture because she is a descendent of people who did do those things. Hester¶s mention of her ³tinker blood´ illustrates the point: her status is something she

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has inherited. This connection is most obviously displayed at the wedding reception, when Mrs. Kilbride and Monica argue over the status of Mrs. Kilbride¶s grandfather. Maxwell describes the scene: ³the characters engage with racially pejorative terminology, competing for predominance in the social hierarchy, and desperately attempting to negate any dubious personal genealogical connections´ (124). While this scene demonstrates the tie between parentage and status, it has attracted criticism of its handling of racial tension. In his essay on postcolonialism in the play, Victor Merriman makes a fair point: ³In the dramatic world of By the Bog of Cats, the best thing that Monica Murray can do by way of mitigating the assault on Hester, as a traveler, is to expose the fact that her most foul antagonist is a traveler too´ (154). On the surface, it appears that Monica¶s defense casts doubt on the validity of Mrs. Kilbride¶s accusations, but it does so by suggesting that Mrs. Kilbride is just as bad as Hester instead of pointing out that there is nothing wrong with Hester in the first place. However, Monica¶s line could also be read or played with the sense that she is trying to show that Mrs. Kilbride and Hester (and in fact, all the residents of the bog) are not that different from one another. Depending on the director¶s intentions and interpretation, it can be used to demonstrate the entrenched racism of the community or it can be seen as a plea for solidarity. As with her portrayal of feminism and female experience, Carr¶s message about race is powerful if not entirely politically correct. Furthermore, Hester¶s suicide and killing of her daughter at the end of the play can be read through a racial lens. Just as it would be hard for Josie to grow up as a woman in the maledominated society, it would be equally difficult for her to be marked as a Traveler in a settled community. Maxwell observes that the deaths of Josie and Hester are the culmination of an engagement with the silencing of µthe voice of the Traveller.¶ Hester¶s symbolic silencing of her own daughter, and then herself, may appear to be a very violent act of retrenchment«however, this act is

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performed in order to break a negative cycle of familial dysfunction and social discrimination (129). Again, while Hester¶s intent is clear and her point is made, her method of silencing can be read as giving up the struggle, or, to use Wallace¶s phrase, ³throwing in the towel.´ Racial relations in the play are further complicated by the political situation in Ireland at the time of publication (1998). Beginning in the mid-1990s, Ireland entered into a period of rapid economic development sometimes called the ³Celtic Tiger´ or ³Tiger Ireland´ after the fast pace at which baby tigers grow. With this economic expansion came the iconic European ideas about capitalism and individualism, which are present in Carr¶s work. Xavier is the most obvious capitalist, and everything about Caroline¶s wedding is about him improving his financial status, including the date of the ceremony: Carthage mentions that it was moved forward so that Xavier could avoid certain taxes. Partially because of his obsession with money and success, Xavier is not a very likable character. His capitalist values carry over into the way he treats his children: Caroline is used as a commodity and sold through marriage, and Hester suggests that he killed his son James because ³he wasn¶t tough enough for [Xavier]´ (Carr 329) and would not bring success. Similarly, Mrs. Kilbride is consumed by saving money and ridicules Hester and Josie because they are poor. Even seven-year-old Josie realizes the absurd extent of her obsession, and mimics her grandmother when she says, ³Seventeen million pound. I saved it«I cut back on sugar and I cut back on flour. I drank biled socks instead of tay and in wan night I saved seventeen million pound´ (Carr 286). Economics seem to have replaced family values, even for the fairly amiable Carthage. Although she is certainly not blameless in her brother¶s murder, Hester is correct when she accuses Carthage of using Joseph¶s money and ³ris[ing] in the world on [Joseph¶s] ashes´ (Carr 334). Maxwell asserts that this allegation is a ³robust critique of social status depending upon such rampant individualism as the characters of By the

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Bog of Cats habitually exhibit´ (127). Carr attributes capitalist traits to characters who are least likely to win sympathy from the audience, in part because of their individualist attitudes. Furthermore, this nationwide attitude shift towards the supreme importance of the economy has dredged up the colonial roots that Ireland had fought for so long to overcome. Merriman opines that ³contemporary Ireland faces every day a profound historical irony: the diverted teleology of the nation-state demands the abandonment of the egalitarian and communitarian aspirations of anti-colonial nationalism. Such a contradiction ensures an unsettled country´ (147). Competition between an attempt for postcolonialism and the resurfacing of Ireland¶s imperial experience is prevalent in By the Bog of Cats«. As touched upon previously, there is a tension between Hester, who has either reclaimed or never abandoned some of the traditional customs of the folk-Irish, and, Catwoman excepted, everyone else on the bog who has moved into a more European appropriation of their culture. Kader suggests that ³Carr's play is about isolated, rural, Pagan Ireland, as represented by Hester, and its struggle to maintain its traditions against the new conventions of universal modernity, as represented by her community´ (167). There is also something distinctly colonialist about the exile in the play: Hester, as an embodiment of historical and traditional Ireland is forced out of her home so that Carthage can live there with his more modern, more European wife. Carr throws her lot in with Hester, who, although flawed, garners the audience¶s sympathy partially through her refusal to submit to imperialist conventions. At its most basic level, the tension between the traditional and the modern is present in the language of the play. In the first scene with Mrs. Kilbride and every other time that she and her granddaughter share the stage, Josie calls her grandmother ³Granny´ while Mrs. Kilbride insists on the more formal, upper class, and European title ³Grandmother.´ The same is

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exemplified when the word ³witch´ is used. Prior to the Europeanization of Irish culture, healing women were respected people in the community and did the job of doctors with prayers and herbs. Now, however, as Kader notes, ³because modern Christian culture has elevated itself above the previous Pagan one «the term 'witch' serves as a term to denigrate those (especially women) associated with the antiquated belief system of rural Ireland´ (180). Catwoman would have been respected a century ago, perhaps even fifty years ago, in the community of the bog for her ability to make predictions and cure the sick, but she now is either dismissed due to her eccentricities or reluctantly included in community functions because of lingering superstitions. However, Catwoman has not internalized the notion that being deemed a µwitch¶ is an inherently bad thing. When she calls Hester her ³match in witchery´ (273), Catwoman gives Hester one of the only compliments she receives throughout the entire play, but the same word is reappropriated by Xavier as an insult when he calls Hester ³a dangerous witch´ (331). This simple switch in the connotation of a single word demonstrates conflicting beliefs of the traditional and the Europeanized cultures. Similarly, Hester maintains a belief system about contracts that is no longer deemed valid in the modernized Ireland of the late 1990s. When Caroline demands that Hester leave the house that she has signed over to her and Carthage, Hester answers, ³Bits of paper, writin¶, means nothin¶, can as aisy be unsigned´ (Carr 283). In this exchange, Hester puts her confidence in her belief that her spiritual contract with the land of the bog will outweigh any man-made, legally written one. On this attitude, Kader offers that ³Hester's claims to the land throughout the play are purely emotional«While this emotional connection may, by modern legal standards, be laughable, Hester's and Xavier's dispute recalls the greater dispute that arose between the native Irish (as well as many other cultures) and the British forces in the era of colonization´ (183).

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Furthermore, Hester takes a similar view towards the official contract involved in marriage. She considers Carthage to be her husband despite the fact that they never had a wedding ceremony; a seven-year-old child and fourteen years of co-habitation are proof enough for her. Through the union of Carthage and Caroline, Carr demonstrates that a contractual marriage does not guarantee happiness and has as many connotations of commerce as it does of affection. In her attitude towards both marriage and property, Hester displays an ³emphatic contempt for, and [a] denial of, a signatural, written culture´ (Maxwell 126) and rejects the imposition of this European custom. Furthermore, Carr displays a loss of the oral tradition of Irish culture through interweaving memories of the past and images of the present. Big Josie did not exist in the written world, but mentions of her as a ³song stitcher´ (275) and her habit of ³croonin¶ towards Orion in a language«never heard before or since´ (294) survive to suggest that her place in the community was through spoken words. In Act 3, Hester mentions that Big Josie used to be employed to bring her songs to weddings, but this oral tradition seems to have died on the bog as no such person was present at Caroline and Carthage¶s reception. Hester and her family persist in their preservation of the culture of oral history, and even little Josie Kilbride (whether consciously or not) embraces this tradition when she sings in Act 1. As Maxwell observes, ³the resounding of big Josie¶s voice through her granddaughter presents another challenge to the established order, through its utilization of an appropriately cultural-specific medium: orality´ (127). It is unlikely that Big Josie¶s songs were ever recorded on paper, and their survival is in itself an act of defiance in the face of imperialist written culture. As with Carr¶s treatment of feminism and racism in the play, By the Bog of Cats« as a postcolonial work has attracted criticism. In his essay on postcolonialism in Carr¶s work, Victor

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Merriman opines that Carr has done nothing significant in her work to challenge the continuing imperial situation in Ireland, and he closes his essay with the assertion that ³such collusion raises the prospect of a lesser public role for the theatre itself, in which its credentials as spectacle overpower its ethical obligation to critique and thus enable renewal of the social order´ (159). His conclusion is harsh, in light of the subaltern knowledge and tradition that Hester Swane represents, but it is not entirely unfounded. One issue that he takes with the play is that it is set comfortably in the past and it therefore does nothing to comment on the current situation in Ireland. While the work does have a timelessness about it, Carr writes that it is set in ³the present,´ which suggests that the old traditions presented are meant to propose questions about the validity of the newer customs and are not supposed to date the play. Additionally, Merriman criticizes Carr¶s use of a European narrative in the creation of her work: ³content which appears to be quintessentially Irish is overlaid with tropes and conventions deriving from Greek cosmology filtered through the pedagogical systems of the Anglo-American world´ (152). While there is no disputing that the story is a Greek one which has been heavily philosophized upon by British and American writers, Carr should not be disallowed to use it as inspiration. Many other Irish writers have used the narratives or the structures of Greek plays in their work (Heaney, Yeats, and Synge, to name a few), which suggests that there is something about classical tragedy that is translatable into the postcolonial situation of Ireland. This trend, in combination with the clear tension between tradition and modernity expressed as a theme in Carr¶s work, suggests that while Merriman¶s claims are understandable within the context of his essay his conclusion about Carr¶s plays ought not go unchallenged. In writing By the Bog of Cats«, Marina Carr has created a thematically rich and nuanced play. Her work is textured with generally sympathetic statements about the situations

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surrounding current Irish feminism, racism, and postcolonialism. She creates an exiled character who is robbed of her identity and her life because she is a woman, and an outsider against whom the rest of the community define themselves. Carr¶s work has attracted critical attention in most of its thematic aspects, and while her assertions are not perfect, they certainly raise questions about the situation of postcolonial Irish Traveling women. The most debated section of the play is Hester¶s suicide at the end, which is problematic because Carr does not present a solution to any of the issues that she identifies aside from silence. Because the play is a tragedy modeled after Medea, Carr¶s ending deserves some leeway due to its genre. Still, by drawing from the work of those before her and creating something that is distinctly her own, Carr has added her name to the list of great Irish writers. In her introduction to a critical work on women in Irish drama, Carr concludes that in order to begin a female tradition of playwriting, the women playwrights of the past must be rediscovered and read. She writes that ³for now the naming, the announcing, the retrieval is the thing´ (xi). Carr¶s creative work goes a step further and begins to carve out a place for women in the male dominated Irish theatrical cannon.

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Works Cited Bourke, Bernadette. ³Carr¶s µcut throats and gargiyles¶: Grotesque and Carnivalesque Elements in By the Bog of Cats«´ The Theatre of Marina Carr:³before rules was made.´ Cathy Leeny and Anna McMullan, ed. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2003. Carr, Marina. By the Bog of Cats... Plays 1. London: Faber and Faber, 1998. --. Forward. Women in Irish Drama: A Century of Authorship and Representation. Melissa Shira, ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Kader, Emily L. "The Anti-Exile in Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats «." Nordic Irish Studies 4.(2005): 167-187. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. King, Mary. "The Body out of Place: Strangers, Intimates and Destabilized Identities in Synge's When the Moon Has Set and Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats «." Critical Survey 15.1 (2003): 48-59. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Oct. 2011. Leeny, Cathy. ³Ireland¶s µexiled¶ women playwrights: Teresa Deevy and Marina Carr.´ The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century Irish Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Martinovich, M.K. ³The Mythical and the macabre: The Study of Greeks and Ghosts in the Shaping of the American premiere in By the Bog of Cats«´ The Theatre of Marina Carr: ³before rules was made.´ Cathy Leeny and Anna McMullan, ed. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2003. Maxwell, Margaret. ³µThe Histories of Yeer Blood¶: Exclusion, Social Inequality, and GeneticFallacy in Marina Carr¶s By the Bog of Cats and Portia Coughlan.´ What Rough Beasts? Irish and Scottish Studies in the New Millennium. Shane Alcobia-Murphy, ed. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.

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Merriman, Victor. ³µPoetry shite¶: A Postcolonial Reading of Portia Coughlan and Hester Swayne.´ The Theatre of Marina Carr:³before rules was made.´ Cathy Leeny and Anna McMullan, ed. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2003. Russell, Richard. "Talking with Ghosts of Irish Playwrights Past: Marina Carr's "By the Bog of Cats...." Comparative Drama 40.2 (2006): 149-168. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Oct. 2011. Shira, Melissa. ³The House of Woman and the Plays of Marina Carr.´ Women in Iris Drama: A Century of Authorship and Representation. Melissa Shira, ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Wallace, Clare. ³µA crossroads between worlds¶: Marina Carr and the Use of Tragedy.´ After History. Martin Prochazka, ed. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2006. --. ³Tragic Destiny and Abjection in Marina Carr¶s The Mai, Portia Coughlan, and By the Bog of Cats«´ Irish University Review. 31.2 (2001): 431-449. Watt, Stephen. ³Specters of Beckett: Marina Carr and the µother¶ Sam.´ Beckett and Contemporary Irish Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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