This page was created by Carissa Rodenbiker.  The last update was by Krystal Jamison.

Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine


Setting is one of the most important elements in the Gothic genre, as it has the ability to establish and intensify the atmosphere in the novel. The desolation and gloom felt by the characters comes from not only the circumstances that they are in, but also from their environment. The majority of the story takes place on a ship making the voyage from Ireland to New York. This literal passage has the characters fleeing the now desolate Ireland and seeking the promise of new life in America (Tynan 80). Although the ship represents the beginning of a new life, O’Connor shows that simply leaving a ruined land does not end the misery and suffering. Halfway through their voyage the ship starts to smell; to which the captain describes “The stench now become very evil indeed. As though the ship itself were beginning to rot, or traversing a very real sewer” (O’Connor 154). For the people on the ship, the suffering never ends because the home that many of the characters are leaving has become a place of decay both physically and culturally.

This decay of the land and its effect on the people is shown with the character Pius Mulvey as he is stuck in a life of unrelenting poverty and starvation. O’Connor remarks that “He grew restless with Connemara and its bleak possibilities, its blasted bogscape and lunar rockiness, the grey desolation of everything around him, the rainy, acidulous smell of the air” (88). As tenant farmers, Mulvey and his brother Nicholas live harsh and lonely lives working together on their father’s land desperately and hungrily, but failing to produce anything except hopelessness (88). Mulvey constantly seeks escape from this life. He eventually leaves Connemara, but also finds that physically abandoning a place and its people does mean happiness. The decaying land conveys the bleakness and desperation of the characters’ lives, but is also a catalyst for why many of these people are living in ruin.

Pius Mulvey is not the only character whose life falls to pieces. Both David Merridith and Mary Duane find themselves in situations of despair due to their own choices and situations that have been forced upon them. Merridith and Duane are both put in positions where they suffer from circumstances that were not of their own creating. After many a lifetime of struggle with his aristocratic and Irish identity, Merridith is finally able to accept his position as Lord Merridith on his family’s estate after his father’s death. Unfortunately he finds out that the estate is bankrupt, the land is deteriorating, and his people are suffering (O’Connor 249).
In most Gothic literature “Grandiose but bleak settings redolent with decay tended toward rambling estates and cloisters in remote locales, where unexplained disappearances and deaths or eerie portents and manifestations contributed to suspense, dark tone, and a disturbingly vague foreboding and dread” (Snodgrass). Instead of a decaying and broken down castle or Abbey, Star of the Sea illustrates a decaying land and state of the people, which conveys this same atmosphere. As an Irish peasant who suffers from the famine and being at the mercy of those who are above her in society, Duane’s tragic life represents the state of the Irish people. She is a physical embodiment of this bleakness, desperation, and gloom.


Works Cited:
McClinton-Temple, Jennifer. "Isolation." McClinton-Temple, Jennifer, ed. Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. "Gothic Convention." Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.
Tynan, Maeve. “’Everything is in the Way the Material is Composed’: Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea as Historiographic Metafiction.Passages: Movements and Moments in Text and Theory. Eds. Maeve Tynan, Maria Beville, and Marita Ryan. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. 79-95. Print.

This page has paths:

This page references: