Images From Old Myths: An Analysis Of Six Thematic Motifs In The Modern Irish Short Story

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Six major motifs from ancient Celtic narratives and sagas recur thematically as myth-forming structural elements in the modern Irish short story: The Exile, The Priest, The Bestiary, The Sea, The Big House, and The Dead. Transformed into symbols of modern life, these particular images or archetypes link the traditional mythologies with the modern stories. Because each motif is an image common to all men, it has unlimited powers of reference and communication. When modern writers break down and analyze the old myths, when they restructure the motifs into new myths or short stories recurrent symbolic communication takes place between the writer and the reader. Through the ritual communication of "storytelling," such writers as Moore, Joyce, O'Connor, O'Faolain, O'Flaherty, Corkery, Lavin, Trevor, Plunkett, Kiely, McGahern, Friel, and McLaverty preserve in their modern repertoires the motifs that were immediately identifiable to ancient Celtic audiences. The reenactment of ritual metaphorically reflects the death ritual, the purification, and subsequent rebirth of the motif as a facet of modern literature. Hence, in Irish short stories the rituals of birth, initiation, and death establish for modern man a symbolic contact with ancient man. By synthesizing the ancient and the modern, Irish writers superimpose new ideas on old images to create a literary continuity with the Celtic past. Through the six major motifs, the structural images of literary experience, modern writers paradoxically take the reader back to his beginnings, back to the ancient myths, while at the same time they carry him forward through the creation of new myths, or modern Irish short stories.


Literature, Modern

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