Reading In The Dark By Deane In his novel, Reading In the Dark, Seamus Deane tells the story of an Irish Catholic family in Northern Ireland between the late Forties and early Seventies. He traces the path taken by a growing boy searching for and finding the truth about his family during this very tumultuous time and having to come to terms with what he discovers. Deane uses this family to illustrate the issues surrounding history that are central to the deeper understanding of his novel. He shows how the British government’s and the Catholic church’s differing agendas affect these people’s history and the consequences of not dealing with their history and past resulting in their subjugation and passivity. The theme of haunting plays a major role in the history of this family and the overall society of this people illustrating the problems of not confronting and not knowing the past. The hauntings also further illustrate how various forms of authority affect the way history is written and hidden.
Deane begins the novel with the haunting of the family’s home which starts to hint at the importance of history and the failure to deal with it. “‘There’s something between us. A shadow. Don’t move,'” (Deane 3). This is the first reference to there being something dark and sinister to this family. The “shadow” here is the ghost that haunts the family, but in fact represents the true history of the family that has not been exorcised.
By calling it a shadow, this brings up dark and ominous connotations about what has happened in their past. This shadow is also between the mother and son, a clear indication that the existence of it keeps them apart emotionally. The secret of their history builds walls between the members which will destroy the relationships among their family. “‘No, nothing, nothing at all..All imagination..There’s nothing there,” (Deane 4). The mother ignores the truth and fails to deal with it. She attempts to ignore it by burying the past inside her. The truth about their history becomes nothing more than a ghost in this family, festering inside those who know the truth, but don’t tell it, which in the long run will destroy themselves and others around them.
The house itself is haunted which is used by Deane to illustrate the strength and affect of how history and the failure to deal with it affects the surroundings around a person, in this case the family. We had a ghost, even in the middle of the afternoon..The house was all cobweb tremors. No matter where I walked, it yielded before me and settled behind me. (Deane 5) Deane reestablishes the secrets of the family by saying they had a ghost in the afternoon. This only helps to strengthen that this is not the typical ghost and haunting, which in the usual sense would take place at night.
This is something more, the history of the family that will not go away unless it is brought out. This hidden history and truth is so strong that the house becomes a sort of ghost and haunts the family as well. The house, which further represents Northern Ireland, becomes the past and history that they refuse to deal with, whichconstantly surrounds them. He describes the house as “cobweb tremors” implying that the secrets of their history are old, since the image of cobwebs creates the vision of something long and unattended to. It is this truth about their past that has been unattended to or rather not dealt with.
The use of the word tremors describes that this secret still affects them, though it is very old. This reveals Deane’s larger concern of how history and not dealing with it can affect everything no matter if it is alive or inanimate. These issues take on a life of their own, unpredictable and uncontrollable. In “Eddie” Deane begins with the stories of what may have happened to the narrator’s uncle, commenting on who writes history. “I wanted him to make the story his own and cut in on their talk,” (Deane 8). The story being referred to is that of what happened to the narrator’s Uncle Eddie in the distillery shoot out, something that still remains the hidden history of the family.
The father by making the story, or rather history his “own” would begin to bring this out into the open, in effect beginning to exorcise these ghosts in their past. Instead by refusing to “cut in on their talk”, he effectively allows an outside group to write his history, much like the British government writing the history of the people. By not cutting in, he illustrates the passive subjugation of the Irish people. The narrator, on the other hand, illustrates the new generation wanting to face their past, where by challenging the authority of the British government. This section shows how their history is always present no matter what and how the outside authority affects several generations of this country.
A story of an exorcism then follows the talk of Eddie in the section “Eddie” building on the theme of hauntings and the ghosts that this family refuses to exorcise themselves. The idea of an exorcism is to cleanse the body and surroundings of something evil and harmful, to in effect clear the soul and free it. “But if the snib was broken open, the devil would enter the body of the person like a light, and that person would then be possessed and doomed forever,” (Deane 9). This exorcism on the other hand does the opposite, keeps the “evil” suppressed and doesn’t get rid of it. Their true history is the “devil” in their minds and discovering the truth is like a “light” since now everything is clear and visible.
The “snib” is the seal between the secret and truth of the family’s history and the comfortably numb feeling of not dealing with it. They feel they can only continue living staying in a numb and unfeeling state of their past, which in the long run will destroy family bonds. This is the mother and father’s belief of the truth they know, that if they release this onto their children, they too will be “possessed and doomed” with the knowledge that they, the parents, have. What these characters don’t understand is that by keeping this truth and history to themselves and not dealing with it, they are in fact “possessed and doomed”. This knowledge will haunt them for the rest of their lives, doomed to relive this hurt for the rest of their life by themselves. In the novel Deane has the narrator, his brother and father visit the haunted “Field of the Disappeared”, which begins to lead the narrator down the path of the true history of the family and the pain from not confronting it. “There was a belief that the souls of all those from the area who had disappeared..
collected three or four times a year” (Deane 53-54). The souls of this region represent the secret history that the family refuses to deal with. Even though this history has “disappeared” it still returns to haunt them, just as the “souls” do when they collect together. No one, no matter how hard they try, can escape their past or history. Or if you were in a house when the cries came, you were meant to close the doors and windows to shut them out, in case that pain entered your house and destroyed all in it..Again, I felt there was something more to be told, but his eyes were saying he had changed his mind, he was not going to say any more.
(Deane 54) From this field, Deane reaffirms the secret truth of the family’s history, again associating it with the haunting of a house, the family’s house. By using the word “cries”, Deane conjures up notions that the history of the family is something dark and hurtful, since one associates crying with pain and anguish. “Close” and “shut” refer to the attempts of the father to keep from facing this past and bringing the history out into the open, where by the healing can begin. Again, it is believed, by revealing the truth, it will do countless damage to the family, but in fact by holding it in he effectively builds a wall between him and his sons. The narrator continues to “feel” there is something more to the family and he begins to slowly associate what is haunting the family.
In “Katie’s Story” at the end of part one, Deane shows that the narrator is beginning to see there is more to his family’s own history through her story of haunting and the force of the outside authority of his parents. “An instinct woke in me at the mention of Grianan. I wanted her to stop, not knowing why, but she went on” (Deane 68). Not only is Katie’s story about haunting, but also the narrator, he is being haunted by “an instinct”. There is something more that he begins to realize about his family’s past and its connection to Grianan. This “instinct” is the truth of their history that is beginning to come out through the story.
Also, the reference to Grianan illustrates the feelings of the new generation of Irish Catholics that the narrator represents and their remembering the past and the drive for self rule. The parents failure to deal with this past of theirs is handed down to their children through their authority over them. The narrator does not want to hear this history by his reaction of “wanting her to stop”. He doesn’t “know why”, but through the feelings of his parents …