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"Blown Off the Road of Life by History's Hungry Breezes": Sebastian Barry as Therapist and Witness

Good, Kristi (2014) "Blown Off the Road of Life by History's Hungry Breezes": Sebastian Barry as Therapist and Witness. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Sebastian Barry is most notable for creating characters who are based on historical ancestors from his own family tree, particularly individuals who have been selectively silenced for their failure to adhere to political and societal norms deemed appropriate for the historical narrative of Ireland. Five of his plays and five of his novels expressly address this particular issue, but have never before been examined as a cohesive work.

In chapter one, I implement Patrick Colm Hogan’s literary theories on how to categorize multiple discourses as a unified work and Franco Moretti’s method of creating illustrative graphs to visually unlock patterns and similarities across discourses. I propose that the ten discourses be named the Ancestors Cycle in order to acknowledge Barry’s thirty-year effort in service of proposing a more inclusive definition of Irish Identity.

In chapter two I examine the relationship model of the therapist/client as a correlate for the writer/character connection that plays out in Barry’s work. Through empathy, therapists are encouraged to relate to their patients in order to facilitate a trusting relationship. Adverse effects can occur in the advent of the therapist’s neurological inability to regulate the distinction between self and other when engaging empathetically with a client. Writers—who must empathize with the characters they themselves have created—run the same risk as therapists. This chapter focuses on neurological findings regarding empathy and psychological studies on the healing power of narrative, as well as various studies on the power of testimony for understanding the role of fiction writers as secondary witnesses and voices for traumatized victims of the historical past.

Chapter three contains a case study that highlights Barry’s relationship to the models described in chapter two. The power of Barry’s testimony is at the core of healing the many tears in Ireland’s historical fabric. By integrating what was once deemed unseemly back into the historical narrative, today’s Irish can better understand in a very complex and real way who they are, where they come from, and how they can situate themselves in a global context for the continued health and growth of Ireland.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcConachie, Brucebamcco@pitt.eduBAMCCO
Committee MemberGeorge, Kathleengeorgeke@pitt.eduGEORGEKE
Committee MemberJackson-Schebetta, Lisalisajsch@pitt.eduLISAJSCH
Committee MemberBrannen,
Date: 29 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 31 January 2014
Approval Date: 29 May 2014
Submission Date: 2 April 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 213
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ireland, Sebastian Barry, cognitive science, empathy, therapist, witness, Irish Studies, Irish literature, Irish drama
Date Deposited: 29 May 2014 13:58
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:18


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