Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"Blown off the road of life by history's hungry breezes": Sebastian Barry as therapist and witness
by Good, Kristi, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2014, 214; 3582727
Abstract (Summary)

Sebastian Barry is most notable for creating characters who are based on historical ancestors from his own family tree, particularly individuals who have been selectively silenced for their failure to adhere to political and societal norms deemed appropriate for the historical narrative of Ireland. Five of his plays and five of his novels expressly address this particular issue, but have never before been examined as a cohesive work.

In chapter one, I implement Patrick Colm Hogan’s literary theories on how to categorize multiple discourses as a unified work and Franco Moretti’s method of creating illustrative graphs to visually unlock patterns and similarities across discourses. I propose that the ten discourses be named the Ancestors Cycle in order to acknowledge Barry’s thirty-year effort in service of proposing a more inclusive definition of Irish Identity.

In chapter two I examine the relationship model of the therapist/client as a correlate for the writer/character connection that plays out in Barry’s work. Through empathy, therapists are encouraged to relate to their patients in order to facilitate a trusting relationship. Adverse effects can occur in the advent of the therapist’s neurological inability to regulate the distinction between self and other when engaging empathetically with a client. Writers—who must empathize with the characters they themselves have created—run the same risk as therapists. This chapter focuses on neurological findings regarding empathy and psychological studies on the healing power of narrative, as well as various studies on the power of testimony for understanding the role of fiction writers as secondary witnesses and voices for traumatized victims of the historical past.

Chapter three contains a case study that highlights Barry’s relationship to the models described in chapter two. The power of Barry’s testimony is at the core of healing the many tears in Ireland’s historical fabric. By integrating what was once deemed unseemly back into the historical narrative, today’s Irish can better understand in a very complex and real way who they are, where they come from, and how they can situate themselves in a global context for the continued health and growth of Ireland.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McConachie, Bruce
Commitee: Brannen, Anne, George, Kathleen, Jackson-Schebetta, Lisa
School: University of Pittsburgh
Department: Theatre Arts
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 76/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Theater
Keywords: Ancestors Cycle, Barry, Sebastian, Cognitive sciences, Hogan, Patrick Colm, Iceland, Moretti, Franco
Publication Number: 3582727
ISBN: 978-1-321-21053-8
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