The traveller

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The concept of the traveller has changed considerably in Irish society over the last fifteen years. Traditionally, the traveller was either the emigrant, forced to leave Ireland to better himself, or the gypsy, marginalized since the time of the Famine (1846). Since the advent of the Celtic Tiger (1994), and the wealth and prosperity it brought, the new traveller is the immigrant or refugee who comes to Ireland because of the opportunities it offers. I also believe that the definition can be broadened to the Irish people themselves, who can learn to travel within their own space by embracing the multitude of cultures, ethnicities, languages and religions that are now a part of the society. In fact, the very definition of 'Irishness' is shifting and morphing away from the majority Catholic Celtic nation, to an exciting blend of otherness. We must become travellers by leaving our preconceived notions of 'the other' behind, and travelling out of our own personal narrative into the stories of others. In an attempt to show this shift in 'Irishness', and the difficulties it brings, this novel has been structured to echo the great Irish literary work Ulysses by James Joyce. While I am not so ludicrous as to compare my effort to Joyce's, I do not believe that any creative work deserves 'holy grail' status. Therefore, while my aims are far more minor than Joyce's, I felt that shadowing Ulysses would be a perfect way to contemporise the issues that still lie at the heart of the Irish psyche. Just as Joyce set his book on one day, June 16th 1904, The Traveller is set on June 16th 2004 (Centenary Year). In the same way as Joyce used 'The Odyssey' as a foundation for a reflection on the Irish society of 1904, The Traveller loosely recreates Ulysses in contemporary Dublin. Like Joyce, I see this as a way of creating a thread of continuity between the actions of a small group of people in a particular place and the wider historical context, as well as showing the archetypal nature of human relationships. The Traveller does not adhere slavishly to the plotline of Ulysses, but builds upon it, creating additional characters and transferring the original themes to a modern context. Where appropriate, I have echoed the style of certain chapters in Joyce's original, ego the soliloquy format for the last chapter. Where Joyce used the central character of Bloom, a Jewish advertising salesman of Hungarian extraction, my central character is Omar, a Muslim journalist of Egyptian descent. They both represent the outsider in their own time, and suffer from being born into a tradition/religion that is alien and threatening to the society in which they live. Neither is a hero in the Homeric sense, but ends up being one through ordinary humanity. In The Traveller, the character of Omar is key to exposing the difficulties faced by 'the stranger' , even one who is half Irish and has grown up in that society. His journey through one day indirectly illuminates the key themes of politics, religion, marginalisation and love, as do the characters of Kinch, Flora, and Bláithín.

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