Reading In the Dark
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 allAll imaginationThere’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 afternoonThe 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