Death in Marriage: The Tragedy of Elizabeth Reegan in the Barracks (Critical Essay) - Irish University Review: a journal of Irish Studies

Death in Marriage: The Tragedy of Elizabeth Reegan in the Barracks (Critical Essay)

By Irish University Review: a journal of Irish Studies

  • Release Date: 2005-03-22
  • Genre: Reference
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Death in Marriage: The Tragedy of Elizabeth Reegan in the Barracks (Critical Essay) Irish University Review: a journal of Irish Studies Book Review Score: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars

Elizabeth Reegan's tragedy unfolds in the bleak, postcolonial world of mid-twentieth-century rural Ireland. It is a world marked by economic stagnation where massive emigration has devastated the poorer regions of the country. It is a time when the stability of the Irish family is viewed by Church and State as essential to the success of the new Republic, and both institutions actively engage in the subjugation of women as a means of ensuring its solidity. The repressive measures imposed upon women serve also to keep them out of competition for the limited number of jobs the economy can provide. Ironically, in the harsh economic reality of rural life, a woman in Elizabeth Reegan's position would ostensibly seem privileged. She has had the chance to train as a nurse and work in this profession in London for many years; she has returned to her birthplace after her years in England, an opportunity not available to most emigrants; and by virtue of her marriage to a police sergeant, her standard of living, although hardly lavish, is higher than that of the majority of her neighbours forced to eke out a living through subsistence farming. But for the intellectual Elizabeth, this is a claustrophobic world and it kills her spirit as surely as cancer kills her body. In the opening scenes of The Barracks, Elizabeth clears her throat, and finding she does not have a handkerchief, without thinking, she spits into the fire. The sizzle of spit against the hot ash sears her soul with the image of her present circumstance, 'spitting like any common slut in a barrack kitchen'. Then, with 'the abjection of a beaten animal' she joins the family circle. (1) Elizabeth's ability to see very clearly the horror of her situation makes her the most human of McGahern's characters and the most tragic:

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