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  • Alan Bray

What Kind Of Fool Am I? - Amongst Women


Who am I? That’s a question that self-reflective people ask themselves again and again as they move through life. The answer is more than a name; it is a persona that includes personality traits, abilities, physical attributes, interests, and social roles.

I am the author of this blog. I am tall, interested in writing and reading. I am a husband, a father, a dog owner.

(a bully).

If fiction desires to appear realistic, characters should be shown as having an identity, no?

An interesting facet of Amongst Women is Moran’s search for (or perhaps rejection of) his identity, although the character is, it’s fair to say, not someone who would experience themselves as having an identity crisis. A good chunk of his identity consists in finding disappointment in who or whatever he tries to be. We know he had a successful career as a soldier, that he was good at it, but that he had a falling out with his superiors that led to his retirement.

He discusses this in a conversation with his daughter, Sheila:

“’They say you should have gone to the very top in the army but you were stopped. McQuaid always said they set out to stop you,’ Sheila said with borrowed vehemence.

‘I was stopped all right but it wasn’t as simple as poor McQuaid made out. In an army in peace time you have to arselick and know the right people if you want to get on. I was never any good at getting on with people.’”

(Maybe that's his identity—not getting along with people. He doesn't want to be proud of this though).

Too many voices in this blog.

Moran refuses to speak of his military exploits and treats that part of his life (and identity) as done. Probably because he’s bitter about being passed over for promotion, he rejects his identity as a soldier and war hero.

We know that his first marriage produced five children and that his wife died when the children were all under the age of ten. So we can infer that being a husband and father was and is an important part of his identity, as is being religious. In fact, his daily leading of his family in prayer has a ritualistic feel, as if this enactment is necessary to hold everyone together. It establishes and affirms his identity as leader of the family. But his family does not cohere in the way Moran wants. The reader perceives that the children will grow up and move away, establishing their own families; Moran perceives this as well, but to him this is a failure on his part, one he rationalizes by blaming the children for disloyalty.

Another part of Moran’s identity is as a farmer and landowner. It is said he purchased his farm, Great Meadow, with the money he received on leaving the military. He labors long and hard on the land and expects his family to join in the work. However, once again this becomes a disappointment to him when he senses that, after his death, his children will not be interested in continuing his legacy.

“Who cares?” he often says. This seems to be partly a heartfelt cry of despair that his achievements have been done in vain, and also an attempt to garner sympathy and compliance from his children.

So, Moran had an identity as a soldier and rejected it. He has an identity as a father and husband but interprets success in this realm in terms of control and terror. He believes he’s a good father if his children obey him without question, and they won’t. And he has an identity as a farmer but feels his death will render this meaningless. In fact, he believes his death will render everything he’s done meaningless. If he’s not around to lead it, his family and his land will disintegrate. The end of the story shows his error in fearing this, that he has indelibly stamped his family with himself and that his influence, good and bad, will persist.

After Moran’s funeral—death—perhaps his greatest fear: “But as the small tight group of stricken women slowly left the graveyard they seemed with every step to be gaining in strength. It was as if their first love and allegiance had been pledged uncompromisingly to this one house and man and that they knew that he had always been at the very living centre of all parts of their lives. Now not only had they never broken that pledge but they were renewing it for a second time with this other woman (Rose) who had come in among them and married him. Their continual homecomings had been an affirmation of its unbroken presence, and now, as they left him under the yew, it was as if each one of them in their different ways had become Daddy.”

As a character, Moran is defined by angry rejection and dissatisfaction. Any pleasure he takes must be denigrated and fouled in an orgy of brooding. Pride is not allowed. In our post-Freudian world, we can speculate that this harshness toward himself has its roots in a harsh childhood, but the book does not indulge our curiosity on this count. The question of why Moran is the way he is remains open to the reader to answer. We know next to nothing about his upbringing but can imagine Moran had a very harsh inner critic who always judged his efforts as lacking.

A tragic figure who causes much suffering.

It was that old savant John Locke who identified self with memory and argued that identity extends to anything of a person’s past that he or she can remember. We are what we were. Perhaps it is again worth noting that there are significant parallels between Moran’s fictitious family and John McGahern’s real one, between Michael Moran himself and McGahern’s own father, who was a cold and brutal policeman.

An important part of Amongst Women is that Moran is shown to be in error about who he is and his legacy, and this is accomplished by the narrational style which has an unnamed narrator telling the story and showing how Moran is mistaken about many things.

This narrator is infallible; Moran is not.

Till next time, my friends.

#AmongstWomen #JohnMcGahern #AlanBray