‘I Am Not Long For This World’: An Irish-American Soldier Says Goodbye to His Family

Irish in the American Civil War

The last post on the site examined a mother’s desperate attempts to contact her wounded son. Equally poignant are those letters, occasionally included in the files, which impart a soldier’s final words to his family from his deathbed. On 23rd February 1864, George Carl of the 7th Ohio Infantry sat by the bed of William Brophy of the 29th Pennsylvania, in the Union General Hospital at Bridgeport, Alabama. William’s end was near, and both men knew it. The soldier was suffering from chronic diarrhea, a cause of death that was listed for thousands of soldiers during the war. Unable to write himself, William dictated a letter to George, addressing his last thoughts to his wife back home in Philadelphia. (1)

A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress) A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress)

Although William Brophy is recorded as being born in England in the 1860 Census, there is little…

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‘Quite A Merry Time:’ A Union Irish Soldier Describes His Last St. Patrick’s Day, 1863

Irish in the American Civil War

On 17th March 1863 David O’Keefe, a cabinet-maker from Co. Cork, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Virginia. Some six months previously David had left his adopted home of Reading, Massachusetts, to join the Irish soldiers of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry at the front. He wasn’t a young man- by the time he enlisted he was 44-years-old. The Corkman had taken his wife and young family out of Ireland at the time of the Famine, and now, a decade later, was fighting for the Union. A few days after the festivities, David dictated a letter describing the St. Patrick’s Day events. It would prove to be the last time he celebrated the feast of the patron saint. His letters home are published here for the first time since they were written in 1863. (1)

The 9th Massachusetts Celebrate Mass in 1861 (Library of Congress) The 9th Massachusetts Celebrate Mass in 1861 (Library of Congress)

David O’Keefe had married his wife Catharine…

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Denver’s self-imposed isolation throughout Beloved’s storyline was always portrayed as just a habit from a dysfunctional character with no real explanation. Until recently, Denver was given a timid and fearful representation amongst the rest of her family. Beginning on page 242, Toni Morrison explains why Denver is the way that she is. The chapter resembles an inner monologue Denver is working through as she thinks about her life and the roles each of her family members has played in her upbringing and sense of self. “I love my mother but I know she killed one of her daughters,” Denver thinks to herself. Her brothers Howard and Buglar also knew this and the fact that Sethe would have killed them too had it not been for Baby Suggs intervening at the last minute. The audience is forced to ask, who can live with a mother like this?

Preparing themselves in case their mother attempts to murder them again, all three children turn to “Die-witch!” stories to give them hope and what they imagine as a fighting chance. Amongst the conflicting perceptions the audience recently gained towards Sethe, she is now a witch, a monster. “All the time, I’m afraid the thing that happened that made it alright for my mother to kill my sister could happen again.” Denver does not know what this could be, but she spends every day in constant vigilance for her own safety. She does not leave the 124 Bluestone so that the opportunity for her mother to kill her will never arise. In her shattered family, Denver is the only one to stay put. Unlike Sethe, the boys or Paul D, Denver refused to run away from her fears even if it might mean her death. Already living in a broken home, Denver spent her entire life living with two monsters, the ghost of her sister and the murderous witch that she sees her mother as. Without Baby Suggs’ protection, Denver adopts the role of the guardian of the house and later Beloved from the instability of their mother and protects one monster from the other.

Numbness in Storytelling: ENG-353 post

Discerning what it really means to tell a story while the characters are in shock and numb from grief. My post from our class discussion.

As I read through Raymond Carver’s The Bath, I could not help being shocked at the sequence of events. Besides the plot being off-putting at the least, but the writing style reinforced the horrible reality of the situation. After reading the first three paragraphs, I picked up on a phrase Carver used to describe the exchange between the mother and the baker. He writes, “No pleasantries… The barest information, nothing that was not necessary.” This would ultimately describe Carver’s style of writing in The Bath and made sense to me due to all the characters being in shock just as I was. Let’s face it, if someone you loved was hit by a car and landed in a hospital, you would be hard pressed to construct anything more than simple sentences between all of the anger, confusion and depression flowing inside of you.

The simplistic and detached method of storytelling Carver uses is genuinely realistic in this sense of detachment. The story flows onward and the reader (much like the boy’s parents), is pulled along by the current. As the parents desperately try to get answers from the almost cryptic doctor, so too does the reader search anywhere for context clues to give them an explanation. Eventually the end of the text comes up and the reader can imagine the mother bolting upright with the phone in her hand, eager for news. Along with this mental image, the reader can presumably feel the color drain from the woman’s face as the very last line is spoken. “‘Scotty,’ the voice said. ‘It is about Scotty,’ the voice said. ‘It has to do with Scotty, yes.’” The unidentified speaker on the other end repeats himself and stalls in an effort to come up with more to say to her. The information he has cannot be good. The novel ends in helplessness, just as it began. Whoever is on the other end of the line will not be of any help to the mother and she will not be any use to them.

Mirroring Isolation in CoL49

My final thoughts on Pynchon’s novel, brought to my blog from my post on our course WordPress page.

Oedipa’s tale ends just as it began, with her in isolation. However, the isolation that Oedipa finds herself in at the end of the novel is of a different kind than the loneliness she thought she felt in the beginning. Originally feeling like Rapunzel locked away in her tower, Oedipa transforms into a self-imposed isolationist after discovering more than she could handle of the Tristero. Oedipa’s self-destructive and suicidal tendencies have placed her in a position of sympathy with the dead or dying. In the San Franciso gay bar, the Greek Way, Oedipa is told by a loner the account of a depressed man who attempted suicide. This tale will mirror her own later on in the novel.
Upon finding out that he was fired from his job and shortly before learning that his wife is being unfaithful to him, the mid-range business executive saturates himself with gasoline and pulls out his lighter. Discovering his wife’s infidelity sends him into a moment of insane clarity and he decides to live in self-imposed isolation while also renouncing love of any sort. This becomes one of the easiest to miss and yet most important instances of foreshadowing in the Crying of Lot 49. Later on in the novel, Oedipa calls the Greek Way and connects to the very same loner who told her the story of the suicidal executive. She tells him “It’s over,” meaning her search for meaning behind the Tristero. She continues, “They saturated me. From now on I’ll close them out.” Giving up her quest and soon losing Pierce’s estate to auction, Oedipa ends up like the executive. With all of her ties to her past life now being severed, Oedipa ends the novel in anonymity. While the audience does not discover what truly happens to Oedipa, we are left witnessing what could be the beginning of a brand new quest for Oedipa.

Down the Rabbit Hole and into the Tristero: A Post from ENG-353

From my examination of Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” from my Contemporary American Literature class.

As Oedipa begins her self-imposed quest to unravel the mystery of the Tristero, she enters the proverbial rabbit hole just as Lewis Carroll did in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Whereas Carroll’s protagonist sought to explore a world where nothing makes sense, Thomas Pynchon does the opposite by having Oedipa try to correct and understand the topsy-turvy world her ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity left behind. True to both novels, once the quest for knowledge begins and the lead characters enter the rabbit hole, any chance of returning drops exponentially. Prophesizing this self-damning quest for knowledge is Oedipa’s first night with the lawyer Metzger. In a dingy hotel room in Southern California, the weirdness and disassociation from the normal begins. Metzger initiates a game of strip Botticelli over bottles of champagne and tequila with Oedipa. Oedipa refrains from playing at first and only does so after wearing multiple layers of clothing, an attempt at prolonging the amount of time and questions she can ask before the game “ends” and Metzger “wins” the evening with a naked Oedipa. As the night moves forward, “The progressive removal of clothing that would bring her no nearer to nudity,” sends Oedipa deeper into the rabbit hole and yet she has gained nothing from the night besides an oncoming migraine as all of her preconceived notions become less clear than they already were. Her long endeavor failed to give her any real answers other than the realization that Inverarity lays at the center of something much bigger than she imagined.
Alice and Oedipa both possess a childlike wonder and commitment to diving into the unknown. Both characters also live in a fairytale. For Alice it’s her Wonderland and for Oedipa it is her dark tower as Rapunzel. As the book progresses however, Oedipa stops being the helpless Rapunzel and enters into the Wonderland of the Tristero conspiracy to break herself completely from her tower. Perhaps that is the defining motif of the novel. Both characters, Alice and Oedipa have a surprising amount of self-reliance. Very rarely do any creatures in Wonderland offer any useful help to Alice and just as rarely has any boyfriend or lover freed Oedipa from her tower. Taking it upon themselves, both heroines dive deeper and deeper on their own with no plan on how to get out. Eventually, Alice wakes up from her dream just as the madness crescendos around her. Such an easy escape from the rabbit hole does not seem to be in keeping with Pynchon’s style. Soon enough Oedipa’s story will end and Pynchon will have to decide how.