Mrs. E. Richardson
University English II
12 November 2010
Depiction of Turmoil in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Thesis: In Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle explores the implications of divorce on a child and portrays the resulting turmoil through Paddy’s vanishing childhood; he accomplishes this through the novel’s setting, Paddy’s relationship with violence, and Paddy’s changing sense of identity throughout the story.
A. Paddy’s perspective
B. Reader’s perspective
II. Relationship with violence
1. Between his parents
2. With his friends
III. Sense of identity
A. Kevin and gang
C. Charles Leavy
Mrs. E. Richardson
University English II
12 November 2010
Depiction of Turmoil in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is a story written in a stream-of-consciousness point of view that follows the thought processes of the ten-year-old narrator Paddy Clarke. Throughout the novel, Paddy relates various childhood experiences such as racing through neighborhood gardens, playing soccer in empty lots, bullying his younger brother, and pulling pranks with his gang of friends. For the most part, Paddy lives a typical life for a young Irish boy until his parents start arguing. The fighting ultimately turns into an ever-present disturbance for Paddy, who tries every way he knows to make it stop. As the quarrels become more prominent, Paddy is forced to abandon his childhood and becomes detached in order to deal with the looming family breakdown. In Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle explores the implications of divorce on a child and portrays the resulting turmoil through Paddy’s vanishing childhood; he accomplishes this through the novel’s setting, Paddy’s relationship with violence, and Paddy’s changing sense of identity throughout the story.
In Paddy Clarke, Doyle uses the urbanization of Barrytown to support the theme of Paddy’s fading childishness. Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogyis made up of his three earlier novels The Commitments, The Snapper,and The Van and features the Rabbitte family. Like Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,the trilogy takes place in the fictional Irish setting of Barrytown. And although the town is the same in the books, there are key distinctions between Paddy’s Barrytown of the 1960s and the Rabbittes’ home in the 1980s. The Clarkes live in a rural community made up of mostly middle-class families, while the Rabbittes live in a mostly working-class suburb. In the beginning of the novel, Paddy reports that Barrytown is full of building sites for new Corporation houses: “There wasn’t only one building site; there were loads of them, all different types of houses” (Doyle 5). Throughout the novel, Paddy continues to describe this urbanization of the town that will eventually turn it into the Barrytown of the Rabbittes. This urbanization of Barrytown becomes an essential part of the novel as Doyle uses it to convey Paddy’s passing childhood in a two-fold manner; the first is seen through the eyes of Paddy and the second through the eyes of the reader.
On one level, that of the narrator, the urbanization of Barrytown offers a physical representation of Paddy’s transient childhood. As the building sites encroach upon Paddy’s domain, he is forced to adapt to the changes taking place in his surroundings. Paddy reports what his relationship with Barrytown was like before the building sites when he says, “We owned Barrytown, the whole lot of it. It went on forever. It was a country” (150). Paddy and his friends were used to having the whole town to carry out their adventures. He reports that they enjoyed playing in Donnelly’s barn and that they had their own soccer pitch “on the bit of field between the two roads” (118). Critic Ulrike Paschel asserts that “The continually changing environment challenges the children constantly to adapt in order to defend their territory, i.e. the streets of Barrytown, which nevertheless grows smaller, forcing them to invent new games when the old ones become unfeasible due to the transformation of their surroundings” (72). Evidence of this is seen when Paddy shares that, “Our pitch was gone, first sliced in half for pipes, then made into eight houses” (147). Later in the novel, he reports, “We were playing [soccer] across the road…. The gates on each side were the goals” (165). When construction work displaces their playing fields, Paddy and his friends must find new ways to retain their childhood, whether it is by moving their old games to a new place or by creating new ones to replace the old. Hence, Doyle uses the setting of the novel to physically depict Paddy’s fading childhood.
In order to increase the poignancy of the novel, Doyle ironically juxtaposes the urbanization of Barrytown with the disintegration of the Clarke family. In the words of Paschel, “[The] breakdown [of the family] begins in small, almost imperceptible stages and Doyle mirrors the small steps in those passage[s] where Paddy observes the changes that urbanization brings to Barrytown” (84). In other words, the deterioration of the family occurs at the same time as the chaotic changes taking place in Paddy’s external environment. Although this irony is never realized by Paddy, it becomes increasingly clear for the reader. Critic Dermot McCarthy says, “Overall cohesion and forward momentum are provided by Paddy’s voice and Doyle builds the reader’s vision of the novel’s world, characters and themes in a narrative dominated, significantly, by the imagery of literal building sites” (121). While Paddy sees the urbanization of Barrytown merely as a loss of playground, the reader realizes the more haunting significance of the parallel between the changing landscape and the changing dynamics within Paddy’s home. As his parents’ fights become more frequent and violent, Paddy is forced to take on a more adult outlook of the world. Toward the end of the novel, Paddy reports that “Most of the new houses still had no one in them but their road looked more finished because the cement went all the way to Barrytown Road now; the gap had been filled. My name was in the cement. It was my last autograph; I was sick of it” (245). Paddy now possesses a negative attitude toward his once- cherished childhood games. The urbanization of Barrytown ends at the same time as Paddy’s childishness. Thus, Doyle’s ironic use of the setting allows the reader to see not only the physical loss of Paddy’s childhood but also the loss caused by the emotional turmoil within the home.
In addition to the setting, Doyle also uses violence to illustrate Paddy’s premature transition into adolescence. Paddy’s life is one filled with instances involving violent behavior, ranging from teachers at school to his parents at home. In the words of McCarthy, “Violence is a norm in Paddy’s world” (136). He experiences it at home as a form of discipline. Paddy describes several cases in which one of his parents, usually his dad, hits him for committing some offense: “Da hit me. On the shoulder; I was looking at him, about to tell him that I didn’t want to sing this one; it was too hard” (88). Paddy also experiences similar actions at school as teachers use corporal punishments to ensure classroom order and participation. Paddy describes the consequences for sleeping in class when he shares, “It wasn’t funny; we couldn’t laugh. I felt the rush of air when Henno’s hand swept through and smacked Ian McEvoy’s neck. Ian McEvoy shot up and gasped. He groaned” (64). Paddy also shares that on Fridays, Henno gave them “one biff for every mistake. With the leather he soaked in vinegar during the summer holidays” (63). In the beginning of the novel, Paddy accepts this violence unquestioningly because of his childish nature. He even participates in his own violent behavior with his gang of friends. One of the most appalling passages in Paddy Clarke is when Paddy and his friends force lighter fluid into Sinbad’s mouth: “Sinbad wouldn’t put the lighter fuel in his mouth…. He squirmed but I held onto him…. Sinbad’s lips had disappeared because he was pressing them shut so hard; we couldn’t get his mouth open…. He gasped and Kevin shoved the capsule half-way into his mouth. Then Liam lit it with the match…. It went like a dragon” (8-9). McCarthy accurately notes, “Violence, actual and imitated, features in all of Paddy’s play activities…” (136). Paddy describes yet another violent joke they play on one of their friends when he reports, “We got Aidan and shoved him down the hole. He had to stay down there on the platform and we lobbed muck in….We surrounded him. Aidan was crying. We looked at Liam because he was his brother. Liam kept throwing the muck into the hole so, so did we” (111). Because of his childish mentality, Paddy thinks nothing of his violent behavior. In fact, “Paddy genuinely believes that such exploits are carried out in fun” (Hawkes). This skewed view of violence is typical of a child.
However, as the novel progresses, Paddy’s view of violence changes as he adopts a more adult outlook of the world. This transition is necessitated by the domestic violence within the home and is reflected in Paddy’s need to understand the reason for his parents’ fighting. Critic Caramine White is correct when she claims that “[Mr. and Mrs. Clarke’s] fighting is increasingly damaging to Paddy” (110). Their fighting “gradually invades[s] [Paddy’s] childish view of the world” and forces him to adopt a more sophisticated mindset as he tries to understand the events happening (Hawkes). As the fighting escalates, Paddy becomes obsessed with trying to prevent and understand it. When he first realizes that his dad has hit his mother, Paddy reports, “He’d hit her. Across the face; smack. I tried to imagine it. It didn’t make sense. I’d heard it; he’d hit her” (190). Paddy knows what he has heard but has difficulty believing it because he cannot find a reason for it. Throughout the novel, Paddy maintains this need to understand the source of his parents’ unhappiness: “There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must have been something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn’t see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. He was my da” (259). As he transitions into maturity, Paddy also becomes increasingly perceptive of his surroundings and learns how to manipulate his parents to prevent their fighting. As a fight begins between his parents, Paddy asks them if he can turn on the television. He reports, “I wanted to remind him that I was there. There was a fight coming and I could stop it by being there” (209). Paddy knows that his parents try to protect him by not fighting in his presence and uses this knowledge to end their fight.
Because the events at home cause Paddy to abandon his childish mindset, Paddy’s relationship with his group of friends involuntarily changes. The violence at home causes Paddy to examine his own violence with his friends. In the words of McCarthy, “Paddy doesn’t begin to question his own situation until the situation in his home begins to reach its crisis” (136). This change is observed when Paddy describes a scene in which Kevin bullies Ian: “Kevin grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. Ian McEvoy didn’t try to stop him. –He wasn’t in the war, said Kevin. –Sure he wasn’t? –No, said Ian McEvoy. He didn’t even leave a gap. –Why did you say he was then” (196). Paddy then relates, “It wasn’t fair; [Kevin] should have let Ian McEvoy go when he’d said No” (196). Paddy no longer finds the abusive nature of his friends entertaining. He relates another instance of violence that shows the loss of his former childish humor: “—I kneed you, I said, and I gave him a dead leg. He collapsed before he understood the pain, straight down like something heavy. I’d done it and seen it done so often it wasn’t funny any more. It was just an excuse; pretending that hurting someone was for a joke” (225). Paddy no longer views violence as a game, because the events at home have caused him to move beyond the partiality of a child’s mind. He now sees violence for what it is—an excuse to be cruel. Thus, Paddy’s view of violence becomes an important aspect of the novel as it reflects his transition into maturity.
Along with the setting and violence, Doyle uses Paddy’s sense of identity to depict his fading childishness. In the beginning of the novel, Paddy’s sense of identity is embedded in his group of friends, more specifically in his relationship with Kevin. However, as his parents’ fighting escalates, Paddy turns his attention to his younger brother Sinbad. Paddy assumes his role as the eldest and tries to help Sinbad cope with the disintegration of the family. But because of Sinbad’s rejection, Paddy moves on to idolize Charles Leavy, one of the new Corporation children. Paddy tries to imitate Charles Leavy’s toughness in an effort to prepare himself for the looming family breakdown. In this manner, Doyle uses Paddy’s changing sense of identity to depict his transient childhood.
Before Paddy notices his parents’ fighting, his only concern is maintaining his place within the gang. Paddy’s sense of identity is rooted in being accepted by his peers, which is typical for a child. Accordingly, Paddy spends most of his time at the beginning of the novel playing with his friends. He reports that “For a day we called ourselves the Vigour Tribe. We got one of Sinbad’s markers and did big Vs on our chests, for Vigour” (58). And with Kevin being the leader of the group of boys, Paddy’s identity is, in an even greater degree, grounded in their relationship. He idolizes Kevin more than the others and feels a greater need for his approval. Paddy claims that “Liam and Aidan’s da howled at the moon. Late at night, in his back garden; not every night, only sometimes. I’d never heard him but Kevin said he had” (3). Even though Paddy has never heard the howling, he accepts it as true merely because Kevin says it is. Paddy instinctively believes him. Nevertheless, as the fighting begins at home, Paddy’s sense of identity begins to change.Paschelwrites, “As his problems at home become increasingly serious, his relations with his friends become more difficult and tense” (85). He still desires to be a part of the group, but at the same time he knows that his parents’ fighting forces him outside of the gang’s understanding. This is most easily seen in the passage where the boys take part in the fire ceremony. They hold hands around the fire while Kevin walks behind them with a fire poker; as he hits them, they have to shout a bad word. But when Kevin hits Liam one too many times, he angrily leaves the group. Paddy describes his reaction to Liam’s leaving, “I wanted to go with him…. [But] I’d take my punishment now, for the same reason that Aidan was staying. It was good being in the circle, better than where Liam was going” (131). As McCarthy states, “Paddy intuitively knows that he belongs with the rebel Liam, even though he is satisfied with his ‘top dog’ status in the group” (145). Paddy realizes that he will eventually have to leave the group and his childhood in order to prepare himself for his parents’ separation.
And as the novel progresses, Paddybegins to embrace his identity as an individual outside the group as he shifts his focus from his friends to Sinbad. Paddy bitterly reports, “They were waiting for me outside, not in a gang or a circle. They were pretending they weren’t. They wanted to be with me. I didn’t like it much” (237). As he transitions out of childhood and into his own identity, Paddy no longer takes the same comfort in being a part of his gang. His new purpose is helping and protecting his younger brother. When Henno angrily shows Paddy one of Sinbad’s copies streaked with tears, he shares, “It was a new feeling: something really unfair was happening; something nearly mad. He’d only cried. Henno didn’t know him; he’d just picked on him” (212). Paddy sympathizes with Sinbad and is appalled by Henno’s unfair treatment of his younger brother. Another example of Paddy’s transition is when he reports, “I was going to look after him” (224). Paddy feels a sense of responsibility to help Sinbad prepare for their parents’ split. Throughout the novel, the reader sees Paddy being drawn to his brother instead of his friends: “They were all there, and I didn’t like them…. I realised something funny; I wanted to be with Sinbad” (239). Because of the conditions at home, Paddy reaches out to Sinbad, the only other person who knows about the situation. But because of Paddy’s earlier abuse, Sinbad rejects his brother’s help. When Paddy offers his brother a biscuit, he relates, “I wanted it as well but I wanted him to take it. I was giving it to him. He wouldn’t even look at it…. His lips vanished as he closed down his mouth. He got ready to be pulled around, stiff and dead” (239). Sinbad does not trust his brother and automatically goes into defensive mode when Paddy is around. When Sinbad rejects him, Paddy realizes that he must face the situation on his own.